A former solicitor who claimed to be so poor he had to take the bus to his disciplinary hearing has nevertheless been ordered to pay a four-year-old costs bill.
John James was told to pay almost £14,000 to cover the costs incurred by the Solicitors Regulation Authority prosecuting him in 2013 after it was found he was now earning a £45,000 annual salary as a salesman.
James, a former director of Birmingham firm James Pearce & Co, was struck off for dishonesty but was spared paying the costs order without leave of the tribunal, as it was heard his livelihood had been removed and he was the sole earner for his family.
But fresh enquiries from the SRA found that James had an interest in a jointly owned property which was now worth £600,000, with a mortgage outstanding since 2002. James’ interest was around £231,000.
In a hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last month, James submitted that he owed Lloyds Bank £800,000 which related to a personal guarantee he had given to it in 2006/07. He said the bank debt should take precedence to his outstanding costs order.
James said he was no better off than he had been in 2013: he owed around £15,000 in tax arrears and owed more than £30,000 to his daughter’s school for fees. He had not bought any new clothes for years and had taken the 5.30am bus to London, at a cost of £8, to attend the hearing.
But the tribunal said it was clear James had a valuable asset as a result of his property interest, with equity in six figures, even though his income was not sufficient to cover his expenses and liabilities. The tribunal ruled that the SRA should not be disadvantaged as a creditor just because it was not first to be owed money.
The judgment, published this week, added: ‘It was only fair that [the SRA] should be in the same position as other creditors.’ In addition to paying the 2013 costs order, James was also ordered to pay £1,225 to cover the costs of the latest hearing.