A veteran criminal lawyer has agreed to remove himself from the solicitors’ roll after admitting to sharing confidential client information to assist in a murder prosecution.
Stephen Victor Chittenden, now 66, successfully defended his client on a murder charge in Derby in 1978. A year later, the Solicitors Regulation Authority reported, he provided his former client’s file to solicitors acting for the estate of the murder victim, who were taking civil action against a man eventually convicted of the murder.
Then, between 1985 and 1987, again without the knowledge or consent of his former client, Chittenden provided the file to another firm of solicitors appointed to act for the estate and he permitted them to make a photocopy of the file.
The papers contained proofs of evidence, witness statements, briefs to counsel and advice, reports of experts, attendances, correspondences and other documents. Also included were confidential and legally privileged documents relating to other proceedings involving the former client.
A regulatory settlement agreement reported that Chittenden had admitted on oath in 1991 to forwarding the papers and allowing them to be copied, without having his client’s permission. The agreement noted that his former client faced civil proceedings as a result of the improper disclosure.
It was not until last year that the matter came to the attention of the SRA. Chittenden subsequently admitted two allegations of misconduct. He announced his retirement from the profession at the beginning of 2016. A local newspaper quoted him as saying he had been 'torn between professional duty and common sense'.
The SRA said Chittenden, who was admitted in 1975, accepted that his behaviour would normally be likely to lead to a strike off and he accepted he would never practise as a solicitor again. In mitigation, he apologised for the misconduct and said he regretted his actions. He had felt pressurised to disclose documents by his MP, the local press and the solicitors acting for the estate of the murder victim.
He was motivated not by personal gain but in the greater interests of justice, which were ultimately served by the conviction of the murderer.
Chittenden said he regretted that his former client had been subject to civil proceedings, which he had not forseen when he handed over the papers. He cited an unblemished professional record lasting more than 40 years.
The solicitor was a partner at Derby firm Eddowes Waldron, before moving in 1985 to Smith Dean and Chittenden, which subsequently became the Smith Partnership.
He undertook to make an application to the SRA to remove himself from the roll within two weeks of the date of the agreement. He will also pay £650 costs.
Although the settlement agreement states Chittenden was referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in March 2017, the Gazette understands the tribunal did not receive proceedings from the SRA and the tribunal did not know of the decision.