A solicitor who tried to find a home for unclaimed client damages has been cleared of wrongdoing by a tribunal. Vincent Gray, a partner at Greater Manchester firm Dunne and Gray, was found not guilty of acting without instructions in making the claims, following a two-day hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in May.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority began an investigation after Gray’s firm applied for permission to withdraw unclaimed credit balances of £20,000 and send them to the Solicitors’ Benevolent Fund, after the relevant clients were deemed untraceable.
He was charged in relation to settling personal injury cases without clients’ knowledge and keeping the costs. Gray, a solicitor for 23 years, denied misconduct throughout and maintained that he always acted within the scope of his authority.
Following the tribunal decision, the SRA applied unsuccessfully for Gray to pay its costs of £39,750, despite it being the losing party.
The tribunal had described Gray as an ‘honest and credible witness who had a heartfelt belief that he had acted in the best interests of his clients’. In contrast, the Solicitors Regulation Authority was criticised for a ‘significant delay’ between its investigation, which started in late 2014, and issuing the rule five statement (setting out its case) in November 2017.
The tribunal said: ‘There was nothing about [Gray’s] conduct of the proceedings that justified a conclusion that he should have to pay the [SRA’s] costs. He had cooperated throughout and had been largely consistent in what he had said from the outset of the investigation to the hearing. The documentary evidence had not been well presented by the [SRA] and the rule five statement had been set out case by case rather than allegation by allegation which had not assisted the tribunal. At least one key document referred to [in the investigation report] was not in the papers before the tribunal.’
Gray said he faced a dilemma when it had been difficult to track down or speak with clients who had initiated claims, and he continued their cases because he thought it was in their interests.
The firm, which posted a £6m annual turnover, had received income of £41,548 from the eight cases highlighted by the SRA.
Gray denied attempting to conceal anything and denied acting without adequate instructions, in each case saying he used his judgement, experience and discretion to pursue claims in the clients’ best interests.
The tribunal found no evidence to show that Gray caused or allowed a misleading representation to be made, and that in highlighted cases he did have adequate instructions to settle claims.