An experienced personal injury lawyer has agreed to be struck off after drafting a letter to help a client conceal from her husband the extent of a damages settlement.
Geoffrey Hart, a former director with Midlands firm Ward & Rider, had secured damages of £48,000 after costs for his client in 2017. But, during a telephone discussion, the client advised Hart she would be telling her husband the claim settled for £30,000 and asked him to prepare a letter confirming the lower amount.
Hart then wrote to state damages were £30,000 and broke down the elements of the claim. He wrote a further letter two weeks later referring to the £30,000 figure.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that the client, who was a family friend of Hart’s wife, had told him she wanted to keep some of her own damages because her husband was controlling and would decide how the money was spent.
Hart submitted that he became ‘very emotional’ after learning the client had gone through tragic events in her personal life similar to those he was experiencing at the time, and he acted out of character in drafting the false letter.
A clinical psychologist report confirmed that Hart made a mistake while experiencing psychological difficulties and some associated impairment in cognitive processing – namely judgement and reasoning.
Hart, a solicitor for 21 years, made no attempt to conceal the relevant letters and upon realising the seriousness of the matter he pressed his employer to recall the letter. He was reported to the SRA by his firm and resigned shortly after. The false letter was not shown to the client’s husband or anyone else.
The tribunal heard that Hart also admitted sending an email to his wife, a solicitor, which included personal information about another client who had suffered a personal injury. The email was to provide his wife with a precedent document for her own legal practice.
Hart and the SRA agreed on a joint outcome that he be struck off and pay £9,000 costs.