A sole practitioner who claimed he could not afford to store client files securely has been fined £3,750 by a tribunal.
In an outcome agreed with the SRA, Hertfordshire solicitor Jeffrey Allan Jackson admitted failing to make any provision for the safe storage or disposal of some 4,000 files held on the premises. His firm also had around 300 deeds and 400 wills stored on-site.
The tribunal heard that Jackson had contacted the SRA in late 2016 to explain he was in financial difficulties, had personal debts of £150,000 and intended to petition for his own bankruptcy. The firm closed at the start of November that year and Jackson informed the regulator he could not afford the safe collection, storage or disposal of the archived files at his firm.
The SRA told the tribunal that Jackson had an obligation to deal with client files when he closed his practice. He should not have left them in his former office premises and should not ‘abnegate his responsibility’ for their safeguarding to the regulator.
The tribunal judgment added: ‘As a sole practitioner [Jackson] was solely responsible for making arrangements in respect of his files, wills and deeds on the closure of his practice. He should have made financial provision for the safeguard and or disposal of files when he made the decision to wind down or close his practice.’
Jackson, a solicitor for 32 years who now works as a consultant, also admitted failing to carry out proper reconciliations of the firm’s accounts and failing to keep proper accounting records.
In his mitigation, not endorsed by the SRA but heard by the tribunal, Jackson said his actions were not premeditated, were beyond his control and were something he desperately wanted to avoid. He informed the SRA about his financial problems as soon as he determined the situation was unavoidable and liaised with the regulator throughout the process.
A confluence of circumstances, including personal issues and the absence of a key staff member, had led to this point, and it hurt him greatly to know he had let himself and the profession down. The judgment added: ‘It was uppermost in his mind to avoid unnecessary stress [and] anxiety to his clients and the SRA.’
The tribunal accepted Jackson showed genuine insight, contacted the SRA about his situation and made early admissions.
The proposed fine was reduced from £7,500 due to Jackson’s financial position, with costs ordered also halved to £3,000.