The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has heard that it did not occur to anyone at Baker McKenzie that alleged sexual harassment by a former London chief was a regulatory issue needing to be reported.
The global firm is accused of failing to properly investigate an alleged incident involving former London managing partner Gary Senior and a junior associate in a hotel room in 2012.
At the start of the third week of a 15-day tribunal hearing yesterday, Thomas Kennedy Cassels, a former partner at the firm involved in the investigation from an early stage, was asked why the matter was not reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
'The question did not cross your mind?', asked 39 Essex Chambers' Andrew Tabachnik QC, for the SRA.
'I was aware of the reporting requirements at the time,' Cassels replied. 'This did not present itself to me, though it presented itself as a question of serious misconduct, it did not present itself as a question of serious professional misconduct in the same way [for example] fraud would have done or things of that nature.'
'If you had decided it was potentially reportable,' Tabachnik said, 'the SRA may wish to scrutinise matters, [such as] was the sanction appropriate and appropriately arrived at. If that had gone through your mind you would have taken steps right at the beginning to keep Gary Senior at arm's length throughout the process?'
Cassels replied: 'It would not have crossed my mind the SRA would be interested in the process involved. They might have been interested in the outcome. I do not think it would have changed the process.' He later told the tribunal that 'it did not occur to anyone this was a regulatory issue'.
Tabachnik said it was the SRA's case that failure to report Senior's misconduct or the firm's findings regarding Senior's misconduct breached SRA principles. Cassels denies this.
Earlier in the day, Cassels told the tribunal that, early on in the process, 'Gary suggested he would pay damages as part of any settlement agreement we reach with Person A. I did not like the idea he was buying himself out of a problem'.
It was suggested Senior make a contribution to a women's charity. Tabachnik said: 'I think Gary Senior had enquired what sort of figure. Your response to him is "I really do not know re the number... I suggest you do what feels right".' The tribunal heard that a £20,000 figure was suggested by Senior.
The tribunal also heard that, in March 2012, Cassels replaced Senior as a 'gender champion' at the firm.
Senior, admitted in 1986, is accused of trying to embrace and kiss Person A in 2012 despite receiving no indication of consent, and persisting despite Person A indicating that it was not appropriate. Senior, who last year left Baker McKenzie, allegedly acted knowing he was in a position of authority and responsibility. He denies the allegation.
Thomas Kennedy Cassels and Martin Lawrence Blackburn, who were with Baker McKenzie in 2012 as a partner and head of HR respectively, are being prosecuted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to the investigation that began when Person A made a complaint. The firm is also being prosecuted.
The hearing continues.