London firm Mishcon de Reya has been fined £25,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for failing to prevent payments being made into and from the client account to pay third parties involved in football transfers.
The firm admitted accounts rules breaches in relation to four of five transactions from 2011 to 2015, and today the tribunal found an allegation in respect of a fifth transaction proved.
Last month, the SDT heard that the multi-million-pound payments were made to so-called ‘deal wreckers’ who could prevent a transfer and that Mishcon was seen as a reliable go-between by both the agents and the football club involved.
Chair Andrew Spooner said the tribunal did not accept that ‘payment of monies by [Mishcon] was a necessary part of the legal services provided or that lack of trust between the parties altered the status of receipt of payment of monies such that the firm was not in breach of the banking facility rules’.
Addressing the tribunal on sanction, Chloe Carpenter QC, for Mishcon, said the firm ‘admitted breach of the rule against acting as a banking facility as regards [four of the five transactions] from the very outset’.
‘The firm very much regrets and apologises for the breach. It was completely unwitting and unintentional by the firm,’ Carpenter added.
She argued that ‘the facts in this case are very unusual’, telling the tribunal that the Solicitors Regulation Authority prosecuted ‘notwithstanding that it was the firm that brought the matter to the SRA’s attention in 2017 once it came to the firm’s attention’.
The SRA also ‘decided not to proceed against the matter partner … and the manner in which it made that decision was striking’, Carpenter said.
A Mishcon de Reya spokesperson said: 'Any findings are of course most unfortunate and the firm must and will pay heed to them in our process of continuous improvement, but there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing beyond these limited findings. We are glad the matter has now come to a conclusion, save for the costs aspects which will be addressed by the tribunal in due course.'
Liz Ellen, a former Mishcon de Reya partner and now director of specialist firm Livida Sport, was cleared of all charges in relation to the payments. Ellen was alleged to have ‘caused or allowed’ the client account to be used as a banking facility.
The tribunal found that at the relevant time Ellen ‘had no power to authorise the payments and that she could not be said to have allowed them’, and that ‘there had been a break in the chain of causation such as it could not be said that Ms Ellen had caused the payments to be made’.
Richard Coleman QC, representing Ellen, said his client’s costs were ‘in round figures’ £507,000 including VAT, a sum James Ramsden QC, for the SRA, described as ‘extraordinary’.
Ramsden said the SRA’s costs were £74,589.70, although he said the tribunal should award ‘a fair apportionment’ of those costs as 'a proportion of those costs were incurred in prosecuting [Ellen]'.
Spooner adjourned the question of any applications for costs to a further hearing on 6 December.