A recently-qualified solicitor who binned a document showing up what the prosecution acknowledges was a 'trivial' mistake has denied she acted dishonestly.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard today that Susan Helen Orton, formerly with Cheltenham firm BPE Solicitors, acted ‘in a moment of sheer panic’ after learning that neither she nor her client had attended a planned preliminary hearing at the employment tribunal in 2018.
Within minutes of discovering the mistake, Orton took two copies of the hearing notification out of the file and placed them in separate locked confidential waste bins. The tribunal heard that her actions were spotted by a secretary who reported what she had seen. The documents were retrieved from the bins, one with tears suggesting it had been ripped out of a ring-binder.
Prosecuting, the Solicitors Regulation Authority alleged that Orton had misled the employment tribunal by sending an email saying the firm had not been aware of the hearing date. It was further alleged that she initially told her supervisor she had checked the electronic and physical files but been unable to locate a hearing notification.
The SDT heard that Orton, 43, who had been qualified for two years, said she would ‘deeply regret’ what happened for the rest of her life and she had acted without properly thinking or without considering the implications.
For the SRA, Andrew Bullock said Orton's motive was ‘concealment of a trivial mistake’, and that Orton had never been able to explain how a second copy of the notification document also came to be found in a waste bin.
The tribunal heard that Orton reported feeling nervous and frightened at the time and she was confused about what to do about the missed hearing. Had she been thinking straight she would have realised her actions were flawed because an electronic copy of the document was on file. Her submission to the SRA was this was an ‘immense mistake but not a calculated act’ and she had been ‘thrown off balance’ by what was happening.
The tribunal heard her former supervisor state that Orton was a hard-working and dedicated solicitor who would not have been expected to act dishonestly. Bullock said that while the conduct was out of character, Orton had set out for 12 hours after the incident to stop other people finding out what she had done.
The hearing, which is expected to last until Friday, continues.