The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has struck off a solicitor who was found to have 'deliberately and excessively’ overcharged clients.
Keith Smart, who was born in 1952 and admitted to the roll of solicitors in 1979, was working as a sole practitioner at south Wales firm Keith Smart & Co when he misused client funds. He has admitted to eight counts of dishonesty, the tribunal’s judgment states.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) told the tribunal that Smart failed to have properly written up books of accounts, made or permitted round sum transfers of at least £128,000 on account of the firm’s costs, and caused or allowed debit balances to exist on client accounts.
The SRA also alleged that Smart overcharged several of his clients, in one instance by a minimum of £70,765, and tried to mislead investigators looking into his conduct.
The tribunal judgment said: ‘[Smart] had admitted eight counts of dishonesty. His misconduct was assessed as very serious. He had deliberately and excessively overcharged clients. He also deliberately misled the [SRA] both during his interview and in writing.’
It added: ‘The tribunal considered that given the serious nature of the allegations admitted, the only appropriate and proportionate sanction was to strike the respondent from the roll.’
In mitigation offered by Smart but not endorsed by the SRA, the solicitor said his firm lost an experienced cashier and there had been a 'catastrophic failure’ in the accounts systems. He admitted lying during the interview with investigators but said he had felt under pressure. He has replaced shortages found in probate estates and apologised 'profoundly' for his actions.
Smart was ordered to pay costs of £20,151.64. The matter was dealt with on papers after Smart and the SRA made an agreed outcome.