A solicitor has referred himself to the Solicitors Regulation Authority after entering a relationship with his client, the mother in a contentious family case, it has emerged.
The relationship between the unnamed solicitor and the mother was referred to in a judgment setting out contact arrangements for children of a divorced couple.
Both the solicitor and his firm’s name were redacted in the judgment, which confirms that the solicitor and the father of the children in the case both referred the conduct to the SRA.
The Honourable Mr Justice Peter Jackson, sitting in the Family Court, said while there is no absolute bar on a personal relationship between solicitor and client, in this case he saw ‘grave difficulties’ with the solicitor continuing to act for the mother.
‘This is a highly acrimonious dispute and the personal involvement of the mother’s solicitor exacerbates it,’ he said in K vs D (Parental Conflict).
‘I am aware that the mother would be placed in great difficulty... but the end cannot justify the means if it is not proper for him to be acting.’
The court heard that the couple, whose family home is a mansion bought in 2011 for £5.5m and owned by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, already owes more than £500,000 in legal costs after only a few months of legal proceedings.
In September 2014 the mother instructed her current solicitor and they began a relationship six weeks later.
The solicitor and mother went on holiday to Paris together with her two children, and the solicitor spent Christmas in the family home. The solicitor has also offered financial support to the mother to cover some bills and expenses.
At the outset of the retainer the mother sold her £20,000 car to pay his fees, but after that she incurred £300,000 in legal fees which are all unpaid.
Jackson said the ongoing relationship was ‘plainly relevant’ to the interests of the children and integrity of the court proceedings as a whole.
On several occasions during the four-day hearing earlier this month, examples arose when the mother was challenged about something to which her solicitor was a 'compellable witness'.
Jackson said the only reply from the solicitor’s firm has confirmed that no discussions concerning the case have occurred in the presence of the children.
The judge said this response was ‘entirely unsatisfactory’ and demonstrated that the solicitor cannot give independent professional advice.
He directed the parties to refer his observations to the SRA.