A solicitor who backdated a client’s signed document – only to discover the client had died since signing it – has been struck off the roll.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal opted to ban Patrick Adrien Fitzgerald, 37, following a two-hour hearing conducted remotely today.
The tribunal heard Fitzgerald had been qualified for two-and-a-half years and was working for Cheshire firm Roberts Jackson when he assumed responsibility in June 2016 for a back injury case brought by a worker against her former employer.
The matter had not progressed for two years – indeed, the firm had not had any contact with the client for more than 18 months – and Fitzgerald submitted a request for the release of personnel, training and occupational health records from the employer, using a form of authority signed by the client in March 2014. The tribunal heard he had covered over the date on the original form of authority with a post-it note and made a photocopy with the amended date.
A week after sending the amended form of authority, the employer rang to say the client had subsequently died and so could not have recently signed the document. The tribunal heard a police investigation was launched due to concerns the claim was fraudulent. Fitzgerald was questioned but not charged with any offence.
Prosecuting, the SRA said Fitzgerald had claimed to be acting in the interests of his client and was worried about the limitation date, but this could not be done at the expense of the honesty of the profession. It was submitted he knew he did not have the client’s updated consent and she had not signed the document he had sent.
Fitzgerald, who did not appear, had earlier told the SRA he planned to get the client to retrospectively sign a form of authority, and he had never taken the same action previously or since. He said the uncertainty and anxiety of the case had affected his mental health and had a ‘profound’ impact on his and his family’s life.
The tribunal imposed a strike-off and ordered that he pay £3,729 in costs.