An experienced solicitor has been struck off for misleading the court over a backdated costs budget – but the Solicitors Regulation Authority was heavily criticised as large parts of the case against her collapsed.
Angelina Rigby, admitted in 1993, was found to have acted dishonestly in applying for relief from sanctions using documents that had been recreated for the file to reflect an earlier date. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said it had no other option but to strike off.
But the tribunal threw out several allegations – including that Rigby caused the costs budget itself to be backdated – citing concerns over the investigation and nature of the evidence presented.
Rigby was a partner and head of clinical negligence at national firm Geldards based in its Cardiff office, retained to bring proceedings against a hospital in relation to the death of a patient. She left in July 2017, with the allegations relating to events in the weeks leading up to her departure.
Following a three-day hearing last month, the tribunal said the SRA prepared its case in a ‘poor way’, with ‘significant evidential gaps’ which could not be filled. A report prepared by an SRA investigator had been ‘perfunctory’ and relied far too heavily on Geldards’ internal investigation, at the expense of making independent and deeper enquiries.
It was heard the SRA failed to call the firm’s compliance officer, two of its secretaries who may have had crucial evidence, and even the costs draftsman, to give evidence. The latter’s account, it was held, might have been definitive.
Rigby was cleared of backdating the costs budget and of acting dishonestly in sending letters to the court and defendant solicitors enclosing the costs budget.
But she was found to have filed an application to Cardiff County Court for relief from sanctions which contained untruthful and/or misleading statements. The application included a signed declaration of truth stating that the attached letters were copies of the originals sent before the budget deadline, when she knew the letters had been recreated after the event.
Rigby had submitted that she believed the contents of her application to be true, but the tribunal concluded she would have known her actions would be considered dishonest.
In mitigation she said she had rushed to complete and lodge the application with court, and this was consistent was a ‘moment of madness’ and therefore an exceptional case. She presented positive character references attesting to her competence, integrity and honesty.
But the tribunal found her misconduct was not spontaneous and required planning and thought. Culpability and the seriousness of the misconduct were considered high, and a strike-off was deemed appropriate. The SRA applied for more than £26,000 in costs, of which the tribunal awarded less than half.
Rigby has 21 days to appeal.