An assistant solicitor who backdated a string of client letters to cover his mistakes has been struck off the roll.
Andrew Christopher Aitchison, a solicitor for 16 years, backdated letters on six occasions over a three-year period to conceal errors he had made.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Aitchison, who worked in the personal injury department at West Midlands firm Sydney Mitchell Solicitors, was acting for a client in a claim for damages arising from a repetitive strain injury suffered at work.
While Aitchison was absent from the office in September 2014, the client’s husband contacted the firm and said they had heard nothing about the case for some time.
The firm found a discrepancy between what the client said and a letter on the file dated December 2012, which suggested the file had been closed some time before due to a lack of reasonable prospects of success.
The firm’s case management system revealed the letter had actually been created in September 2013 – six months after the statutory limitation period had expired – and backdated to December 2012.
Aitchison could not explain the discrepancy, prompting the firm to look into other matters with which he had contact.
Five further matters caused concern, involving a series of client letters on file that were created several months after they were purported to have been sent.
On one occasion, the firm’s CMS showed that a document closing down a claim was created in June 2014 but backdated to March. The creation date was three days before Aitchison was due to have a random selection of his files reviewed as part of the firm’s Lexcel re-accreditation audit.
While Aitchison did not take part in the tribunal proceedings, the firm’s senior partner and compliance officer Divinder Singh testified that the solicitor had more than 10 years’ experience of PI work and his files appeared to be in order.
The tribunal made a point of commending the ‘exemplary’ behaviour of Singh and his firm.
As for Aitchison, the tribunal found seven allegations proved against him, including dishonesty.
‘The respondent had been an experienced solicitor in the field of PI and was aware that he should not falsify documents or mislead his clients,’ said the tribunal.
‘Any matter in which dishonesty was proved was at the highest level of seriousness. Here, there was not simply one instance, but there was conscious impropriety over an extended period of time.’
Aitchison was struck off and ordered to pay £5,500 prosecution costs.