A former partner and former solicitor at a top litigation firm have each been ordered for a second time to be struck off for dishonesty – two years after the High Court ordered a remittance of their punishment.
Andrew William Shaw and Craig Stephen Turnbull, who worked for international firm Stewarts Law, were struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal following a three-day hearing earlier this year. Both left the firm some years ago.
The sanctions hearing was ordered by Mr Justice Jay in 2014 after he questioned the original decision, made in 2013, to strike off the pair.
Shaw, a partner with 28 years’ experience, and Turnbull, admitted as a solicitor in 2006, were found to have allowed misleading information to be provided to a court to help their client secure a freezing order against a litigant. The pair were representing a liquidating trust during proceedings.
Jay had upheld one SDT finding that Shaw and Turnbull were dishonest as they had been made aware of evidence suggesting that the litigant no longer lived at a New York apartment. The litigant’s subsequent lack of response to a service attempt was used in the case put forward for the freezing order.
The tribunal said the evidence advanced that the litigant had moved to London was made through an email. It became obvious through subsequent emails with a third party that this evidence had been ‘overlooked’ and an affidavit was put before the court that was not true.
Mark Cunningham QC, representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said the lawyers had a ‘duty’ to ensure their client showed the ‘utmost good faith and disclose his case fully and fairly’.
The tribunal heard the statements regarding evasion of service were the foundation of the proposition that it was right to make a freezing order.
Cunningham asked the tribunal to consider whether it was right for the pair to make a statement in one affidavit and ‘perpetuate by silence’ the statement in another, without flagging up evidence that had come to light.
He said Shaw had provided a ‘misleading explanation’ to the court regarding his knowledge of the crucial email, and, having discussed the fact the email had been overlooked, Turnbull was then guilty of an ‘act of commission not ommission’.
In his ruling, Mr Justice May said the two had been ‘selective’ about the privileged material they sought to rely on. The SRA stressed Jay’s upheld finding of dishonesty could ‘not be dismissed as relating to a mistake’ and could not be classed as exceptional.
Cunningham said striking off the pair might ‘seem harsh’ , but it was necessary to maintain the reputation of the solicitors’ profession as one in which every member ‘may be trusted to the ends of the earth’.
Lawyers for Shaw and Turnbull said their dishonest conduct was ‘isolated and of very short duration’ and a ‘moment of madness’ made with no prior planning.
Timothy Dutton QC argued that proceedings had hung over them for three years. Shaw, he said, had an unblemished work record to the age of 56, often in difficult and high-pressure litigation. Seven witnesses described him as an ‘exceptional person’. The partner had always tried to play with a ‘straight bat’ but on this occasion he had not ‘crossed the Is and dotted the Ts’.
Turnbull was noted as someone with an ‘impeccable reputation’ who was inexperienced in this type of injunction.
He had studied law from the age of 16 and gained a distinction in the LPC, and was rebuilding his confidence and working in a litigation funding company.
On their dishonesty, Dutton said the charges were ‘looking through a magnifying glass of very significant proportion’. He submitted that the misconduct was at the ‘lower end of the scale of seriousness’ and stressed it could be treated as a ‘white lie’ which was of no pecuniary benefit.
The tribunal accepted no harm resulted from the misconduct but said this was more about ‘good fortune’. This was not merely a technical breach of the rules, the tribunal said.
It added that a finding of dishonesty by misleading the court damaged the profession in the eyes of the judiciary.
The tribunal concluded: ‘After very careful consideration of what might constitute exceptional circumstances and having fully allowed for the highly pressurised circumstances of the complex litigation during which the dishonest conduct occurred and the mitigation brought to its attention, the tribunal could not find that the conduct of either respondent fell into the small residual category of cases where strike off was not a reasonable and proportionate sanction for dishonesty.
‘The appropriate sanction for the tribunal to be applied in relation to both respondents was accordingly striking off the roll of solicitors.’
In addition to striking off, Shaw was ordered to pay £24,000 prosecution costs and Turnbull ordered to pay £12,000.