A veteran estates solicitor who admitted failing to return client monies for up to 14 years has been fined £15,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Robin Edward Stubbings admitted misconduct after a previously unblemished 44-year career.
Stubbings, practising on his own account under the style of Bedford firm CC Bell & Son, failed to take sufficient steps to complete or progress the administration of at least five probate matters for different estates, the tribunal heard. He admitted allowing significant delays to occur in carrying out specific steps and informing the residuary beneficiaries of the progress being made.
In one case, Stubbings had acted in the administration of the estate of a client who died in December 1999. A sum of £159,000 was distributed to four residuary beneficiaries in September 2000, but less than a year later the client ledger was credited with a further receipt of almost £36,000. It was not until September 2014 that Stubbings tried to distribute the further funds to the beneficiaries by cheque, and another year until cheques were recorded as being sent.
Two of the four beneficiaries had in the meantime died. The tribunal found that in other cases property sales were delayed by the inaction.
The tribunal said: ‘At the heart of it was a delay in meeting the wishes of the deceased and this was a very serious matter which considerably undermined the reputation of the profession. ‘
It added: ‘[Stubbings] had not made an active or conscious decision, but had lost control of his administrative workload. He had not intended or planned to retain the funds for as long as he did.’
The tribunal also heard a report from the Legal Ombudsman that Stubbings’ firm had not responded to any requests for evidence when complaints had been made.
Stubbings told the tribunal this was not his ‘finest hour’ and that he very much regretted that the situation had arisen. The cases involved were a fraction of those handled in his long career and he was now looking to retire and merge his firm. He did not particularly enjoy being a sole practitioner, he submitted, and said the 14-year delay in one case was ‘horrifying to hear’. He and his accounts employee were now more closely monitoring which funds were being held and why.
Stubbings must also pay £15,579.70 costs.