A solicitor accused of transposing a signature on a witness statement has been cleared of wrongdoing by the tribunal.
Following a two-day hearing last month, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal ruled that Louise Clair Johal had made a negligent mistake but ‘nothing more’, and her actions did not amount to professional misconduct. All allegations against Johal were found not proved and the case dismissed.
The tribunal heard that Johal, a solicitor for 16 years, was an employee of national firm Knights acting for property developer clients in dispute over a joint venture.
The parties involved in the dispute agreed a consent order for the filing of witness evidence and Johal went on sick leave before the deadline, without a signed witness statement from one of her clients. It was the SRA’s case that, to avoid being in breach of the court order, when Johal returned she filed and served unsigned versions of the witness statement, then attached a signature from another document. The tribunal heard that the client complained he was asked to sign the last page of a document which was not the one sent to the courts. Johal was dismissed in March 2019 for gross misconduct.
Johal accepted she had made a mistake but denied acting recklessly or dishonestly. She submitted that she believed the client had authorised the filing and service of the second version of the statement, which was the version to which she attached his signature. She also believed the second statement was identical to the unsigned version already served.
The tribunal found numerous differences between the unsigned and signed versions of the witness statement and said the client had ultimately not signed the statement that was filed and served second time around.
But the tribunal was also satisfied that Johal was not aware of changes that had been made to the statement and that she genuinely – if mistakenly – believed it had been approved.
The SRA applied for almost £8,500 in costs, while Johal applied for her costs in the sum of £22,435. The tribunal made no order on costs, finding the SRA had not acted unreasonably in bringing the prosecution.