A solicitor who operated under the banner of a law firm that was not authorised has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Jamie Stephenson practised as a sole practitioner under the name of ‘Keyne Law’ and held the firm out to be authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
He then falsely informed SRA investigators he had never held client monies and that he had never opened or operated a client account.
Stephenson, who was unrepresented and did not attend the SDT hearing, had applied for authorisation in January 2014 and, when asked if he faced any criminal changes, answered that he did not. The SRA told him the application could take up to six months and to update it if that situation changed.
In July 2014 the SRA informed Stephenson it had come to light that he had been arrested In February 2014 for common assault and subsequently charged. He was acquitted in December 2014.
Advised to drop his application until the outcome of proceedings was known, the SRA took it to be withdrawn and the regulator denied having given any indication Stephenson was entitled to practise as a sole practitioner.
Despite not being authorised he continued to practise from April to November 2014, when the SRA intervened. A letter with the provision ‘Keyne Law is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority' was shown to the tribunal.
His misconduct was highlighted when he acted in the purchase of a property but the purchaser could not find Keyne Law on the Law Society website. It is believed Stephenson acted in at least 91 client matters under the style of Keyne Law, with client funds coming into the client account totalling more than £340,000.
Stephenson, who was admitted in 2008, asked the tribunal to consider the complex background which led to his conduct which included him suffering from a severe mental illness.
He claimed the SRA had given assurances he could practise and that he was treated as guilty before it had been proved. He said the regulator’s refusal to determine the application was held up by a false assault allegation made against him by his ex-wife.
He said he had rented premises, borrowed money and agreed to take on staff and cases before the hold-up with the application. He insisted he wanted to practise law to help people with issues they were suffering from and he had never intended to cause the public to lose trust in him or the profession.
While the charges of practising without authorisation and holding a client account were found proven, the tribunal found insufficient evidence to prove a further allegation that Stephenson had forged eviction notices purported to have been issued by Milton Keynes County Court.
The tribunal found Stephenson had lied to the SRA and described the ‘irresistible inference’ that he knew his actions would be judged to be dishonest.
The judgment added: He had found himself out of work, wanting to start his own firm and to provide employment for a former colleague.
‘This appeared to be the motivation for the founding of his firm. This became misconduct when he continued with that plan without the authorisation from the [SRA] which he knew he needed and for which he had applied. However the misconduct had commenced, it was continued intentionally.’
As well as being struck off, Stephenson was also ordered to pay SRA costs of £29,000.