A veteran male solicitor who repeatedly touched a female co-worker inappropriately and told racist jokes was not considered a ‘significant risk’ to colleagues by the tribunal, it has emerged.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal this week published its reasons for the decision to fine Samuel Maurice Charkham £30,000 following a hearing in October.
Charkham, a solicitor since 1977 and at the time a partner at London firm Simkins, was found to have inappropriately touched a secretary who worked at the firm and also to have told a racist joke at a staff Christmas lunch, before later walking towards the same secretary, who is black, wearing a hat and pretending to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
The tribunal opted not to suspend or strike off Charkham as it 'did not consider that [he] posed a risk to the public, nor that there was significant risk to colleagues and others of any repeat of the behaviour similar to that in 2014 – 2017'.
The judgment added: 'The tribunal was satisfied that these proceedings and findings were such that [Charkham] was unlikely to behave in the same manner moving forwards.' It went on to say the misconduct was considered 'very serious' and as such a £30,000 fine was appropriate.
During cross-examination, Charkham said he displayed a 'playful sense of humour' and merely told 'old-fashioned' jokes. While he apologised for his behaviour, the tribunal said that was not an acceptable excuse or explanation.
The tribunal added: 'It was accepted that, difficult though it was to understand how a professional person was not aware of the shift in public views about such matters during his working lifetime, [Charkham] had not fully appreciated the racial implications of his words at the time he spoke them.
'It is an unfortunate aspect of society that some people still believe it is acceptable to make inappropriate and unacceptable comments when they are presented as "jokes" or "pranks".'
Addressing the finding that he touched a colleague’s bottom, the tribunal noted that Charkham did not put any pressure on her to accept his actions or to keep silent about them. However, it was 'unfortunate' that he did not perceive the total unacceptability of his actions and that his colleague would see them as predatory.
On costs, the SRA applied for £29,950 but was awarded £21,000 after the tribunal found that the hours claimed were 'excessive' and included duplication of time spent.