A renowned solicitor whose politician client was jailed over expenses fraud has himself been struck off the roll after 25 years.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal ruled that Christopher Charles Edward Hayes, while not ‘fundamentally dishonest’, had acted dishonestly in using funds claimed from a public body.
Hayes, 51, had signed contract for the provision of services in August 2005, to fund legal services supplied to his client, Ashley Mote MEP.
Mote, the former representative for South East England who had been elected on the UK Independence Party list, was jailed in 2015 for five years for fraudulently claiming almost £500,000 in European Parliament expenses.
Hayes faced seven allegations at a five-day SDT hearing in July, with one proved against him.
The tribunal ruled that he had permitted his practice, national firm Edward Hayes, to use funds for purposes that he knew were not authorised by the contract.
The contract provided that Hayes would be paid £7,000 a month for the first two months and £1,900 a month from November 2005. Over almost four years the firm received £114,568 from the European Parliament.
The tribunal heard that Hayes and Mote agreed an annex to the contract worth £14,500, describing the professional charges as ‘advising on matters related to legal and constitutional issues’.
But the SDT was driven to the ‘unavoidable conclusion’ that Hayes knew he was acting dishonestly in applying public body funds to civil proceedings brought against his client over a private commercial dispute.
The judgment, published this month, states: ‘[Hayes] was a knowledgeable and experienced solicitor and it was so blindingly obvious that these matters were outside the scope of the contract that his evidence that he believed otherwise was incredible.’
Hayes was cleared of dishonesty on all other charges, and he attempted to argue for leniency on the basis that misconduct was limited to one part of one file.
Hayes had also been the subject of a dawn raid and several hours of police interviews, without charges ever being brought. The tribunal was told his misconduct was isolated and was in the context of acting for a client who was ‘difficult, unpleasant and strong minded’.
The tribunal accepted Hayes’ primary motivation was to satisfy an ‘intimidating and difficult’ client. The solicitor had also cooperated fully with the investigation.
‘However, as a result of his misconduct the firm had acquired substantial sums of public money to which it was not entitled,’ added the judgment. ‘The tribunal recognised the significant and difficult personal consequences of being struck off the roll, but the protection of the public and of the reputation of the profession took precedence.’
Hayes was ordered to pay £86,792 in costs.