The regulator has agreed that a junior lawyer should not be permanently banned from the profession for sending a single misleading email.
Victoria Ellouise Whelan described being ‘blinded by panic’ after discovering she had sent medical documents to the wrong address, and then trying to mislead the intended recipient about what had happened.
Whelan, who had been qualified as a solicitor less than six months when the incident happened in January 2019, made an agreed outcome with the Solicitors Regulation Authority that she should be suspended for six months and pay £5,000 costs. This sanction was rubber-stamped by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal following a one-day hearing last month.
The tribunal heard that Whelan was an assistant solicitor in the commercial litigation team of south of England firm Dutton Gregory when she was required to prepare and send a bundle of medical evidence on behalf of a defendant employer.
She sent the email on the day of the deadline, but addressed it mistakenly to someone unconnected to the matter. When the intended recipient emailed asking where the bundle was, she replied to say it had been blocked by a firewall due to the size of the attachment. Around the same time, she sought unsuccessfully to recall the mistakenly addressed email and asked the recipient to delete what he had received.
The same day, she reported the breach of data to her firm and apologised for sending the misleading email. The firm reported the matter to the SRA and to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which took no formal action. Whelan was given a written warning following an internal investigation.
Whelan said she was ‘hysterical and in a state of shock’ at having realised the error of sending an email to the wrong address. There was no benefit or advantage to her in sending the misleading email, and she had no intention to hide what had happened. Whelan said this was a ‘fleeting moment of blind panic and madness’ at realising her error, and she was only ever trying to buy time to discuss with her bosses how to explain sending medical records to a third party.
She was ‘utterly devastated’ at her mistake and apologised unreservedly, submitting that the misleading email was a single, uncharacteristic moment at a time when she was a very junior solicitor.
The tribunal agreed that dishonesty to conceal a mistake was a serious matter but that striking off would be disproportionate.