A former law centre solicitor who charged clients on the side has accepted being struck off the roll of solicitors. Andrew John Puddicombe, who was employed by Gloucester Law Centre, received almost £8,000 over three years for work on immigration and asylum matters.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Puddicombe, 62 this year, concealed from the law centre that he had been charging clients, who did not qualify for legal aid, on a privately paying basis.
Work was undertaken on law centre premises and using the centre’s name and materials, including letterhead paper, but Puddicombe was effectively working as a sole practitioner without any of the necessary insurance cover.
The tribunal heard that Puddicombe retained payments ranging from £50 to £200. His activities were discovered by the supervising solicitor in 2015 and he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
Puddicombe, while admitting misconduct including dishonesty, stated that he had practised for almost 20 years with a previously unblemished record and that his clients were aware of the arrangements. They were not eligible for legal aid since the 2012 reforms but still needed legal support, he argued.
Puddicombe said the money had been returned to the law centre but he accepted in an agreed outcome with the Solicitors Regulation Authority that he should be struck off.
The tribunal noted the solicitor was employed by a charity that did not charge for services, and that he had not confirmed his fees in writing, or kept records. ‘His motivation was to earn fees for himself thereby increasing his income,’ said the tribunal. ‘His actions were planned, and he had breached the trust placed in him by his employers who were unaware of his conduct.’
As well as being struck off, Puddicombe also agreed to pay costs of £5,000.