A firm owner who admitted she failed to operate a proper accounting system for almost four years has been suspended from practice. Rebecca Hawksley, formerly manager of south east firm Hawksleys Law Ltd (trading as Claas Solicitors) [SIC], also caused delays to an estate administration and did not act in accordance with a Legal Ombudsman agreement.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Hawksley, a solicitor for almost 25 years who managed firms for most of that time, had incorporated a new firm in 2017 but admitted to SRA investigators in 2021 that it had not obtained an accountant’s report and had no practice accounts. She said during an interview with the SRA that she had ‘fucked up the accounts’ and had actively hid this from colleagues.

The most recent client account reconciliation, conducted in 2021, showed the firm was unable to provide an explanation for client account withdrawal adjustments coming to £229,000. Payments valued at more than £1m had been paid over two and a half years through 170 transactions which were not posted to the firm’s cashbook.

From the accounting records provided, investigators were not even able to determine whether the firm held sufficient funds in its client account to match its liabilities to clients. The SRA intervened into the firm in August 2021.

The tribunal heard that the firm’s PAYE and NICS payments were six months in arrears, totalling around £22,000. The firm had last made a VAT payment in July 2019.

When asked by the SRA why she had not employed anyone to maintain the accounts, Hawksley replied: ‘I couldn’t get straight and I didn’t want to bring anyone in to get us straight, and the longer it went on the worse it got’. 

The delays in the administration the client’s estate were subject to a complaint to the ombudsman about the lack of progress. An agreement was eventually reached whereby Hawksley would carry out certain tasks and provide a written apology. Four months later, the client reported that no apology had been received and the estate still not concluded.

In mitigation, Hawksley presented evidence of health issues. She agreed to a six-month suspension and indefinite restrictions on her practising certificate stopping her owning or managing a firm or holding client money. She will also pay £15,000 costs.

  • Varinder Bhandal, a solicitor admitted in 2010 who was appointed manager/director of the firm in 2018, agreed to pay a £10,000 fine and £7,500 costs after admitting failing to maintain accurate books of accounts or undertake regular and accurate accounts reconciliations.