An experienced solicitor and partner at a firm has agreed to leave the profession after attempting to alter a client file to cover a mistake. Heather Redman, formerly a partner at Oxford firm Darbys Solicitors, reached a regulatory settlement agreement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to take herself off the roll of solicitors.
Redman had advised in connection with a trust under the will of a deceased doctor, who had made it clear he intended for no inheritance tax to be payable upon his death.
The doctor died in May 2013 and the first deed of appointment was signed at the firm on 13 August 2013 and witnessed by Redman’s secretary. As the deed was completed within three months of death, it was read back to the date of death, resulting in an inheritance tax liability.
Redman then arranged with her clients to execute a new deed of appointment dated 30 September 2013, which post-dated the time limit, but it was not possible to withdraw the first deed. Inheritance tax continued to be payable by the clients.
Redman then altered the client file to hide the existence of the first signed deed of appointment. A letter drafted by Redman’s secretary on 14 August was changed by her to say that a new deed would be sent out for signature after the period of three months after the doctor’s death.
There was no record of the original 14 August letter on the paper or electronic file, although metadata from the firm showed the letter was last printed on that date.
The client, the doctor’s widow, confirmed she had copies of both deeds of appointment dated 13 August and 30 September. Redman told the head of department about the error on 16 October and the matter was referred to the SRA.
Redman admitted making a client file alteration in order to conceal her mistake and failing to disclose her error to the firm.
In mitigation, she said she had not understood at the time the importance of what she had done and the finality of the earlier deed of appointment. She said she had made an ‘innocent mistake’ thinking she could rectify the first deed of appointment.
She had not deceived clients but had attempted to alter the file to hide her embarrassment. Once she looked at the issue in more detail, she told the firm what she had done.
Redman, admitted in 1991, agreed to apply to remove herself from the roll within 28 days and not to seek restoration without seeking written approval from the SRA. She also agreed to pay £2,485 costs.