A disciplinary tribunal decision on London firm Mishcon de Reya and a leading sports lawyer has been put on hold for six weeks after hearing time expired today.
The firm and a former partner, Liz Ellen, face allegations of allowing the client account to be used as a banking facility. The case was allocated four days at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, but after a day was lost to a failed application by the firm to make admissions, the panel was not able to come to a decision by the close of proceedings on Friday. The case remains part-heard, and the parties and tribunal members will have to return on 29 October for the panel to continue its deliberations.
Ellen denies all wrongdoing in relation to payments to football transfer-fixers from 2011 and 2013. The firm admits inadvertently allowing the client account to be used as a banking facility in four out of five transactions under investigation, but denies the allegation in relation to another.
The tribunal heard that six-figure payments were made to so-called ‘deal wreckers’ who could make the difference to football transfers at a leading club.
In closing submissions, Richard Coleman QC, representing Ellen, said it was not alleged that she had made the payments but rather that she caused or allowed payments to be made. He submitted that Ellen, who was a junior solicitor, aged 28, when the first transaction was made, had not been aware of the risk that she was breaching accounts rules and had received no relevant training.
‘If she had authorised the payments, circumvented the rules, deceived the partners or forged a payment slip, then as a matter of fact she would be the provider of the facility. But none of that happened,’ said Coleman.
‘Professional responsibility for any breach should not be laid at the door of the junior solicitor in circumstances where payments were authorised by the partners and where throughout she was acting in her capacity as an employee of the firm, conducting the firm’s business under the supervision of the matter partner.’
He added: ‘She was entitled to trust the senior people in the firm that the payments were appropriate.’
Chloe Carpenter QC, for Mishcon de Reya, said the firm had self-reported the issue in 2017 but had to wait almost two years for an SRA response and another two years for it to come to a substantive hearing. She said the nature of the firm was that it always tried to comply with the rules, and it was not alleged that anyone at the firm thought they were acting in breach of solicitors accounts regulations.
‘The firm has tried for years to resolve this matter with the SRA,’ added Carpenter.