The High Court has overturned a tribunal finding that a solicitor acted dishonestly on a re-accreditation application.
Mr Justice Soole also upheld Peter Maxfield-Martin’s appeal against findings that he acted without integrity and failed to maintain trust in the profession.
Maxfield-Martin, formerly a consultant solicitor with south Wales firm Gomer Williams & Co, had stated over the course of a five-day Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing last summer that he believed he had the authority of his firm’s director Gareth Gwyndaf Jones to sign off the contents of his mental health re-accreditation form.
The tribunal said he had presented a declaration in 2018 which he knew to be untrue and misleading because his manager had not seen or reviewed his form. He was suspended for 12 months.
But in Maxfield-Martin v Solicitors Regulation Authority, Soole J said the tribunal had not placed enough weight on the solicitor’s belief that he was authorised to act as he did. It was clear, the judge ruled, that Maxfield-Martin’s belief was relevant to the objective test for dishonesty, particularly where the evidence showed a pattern whereby Jones would allow and trust staff to complete declarations on his behalf. This point was backed up by the contrast with Maxfield-Martin’s colleague Cara Young, who had entered Jones’ name on her form knowing her manager had neither seen nor reviewed its contents.
The judge added: ‘Having made no such criticism of Ms Young, the tribunal ought to have asked itself whether the handling of Ms Young’s application gave a good indication of what ordinary decent people would make of completing a form in someone else’s name with authority to do so.’
Maxfield-Martin, who was dismissed by the firm in 2018, appealed on the basis the tribunal was wrong to find that authority to sign the declaration could not be delegated. He submitted that once he had authority to sign, it was wrong to treat the declaration as ‘false’ and treat it as an act of dishonesty.
The re-accreditation document did not expressly stipulate that it must be signed personally by the maker of the declaration, nor was there any established rule which required a personal signature.
Maxfield-Martin did not appeal the tribunal’s finding that he had suggested in an email to the firm that it should withdraw the allegation made about him. The judge remitted the matter in light of the successful appeal for a fresh determination on sanction.