A solicitor who showed a ‘careless and cavalier attitude’ towards accounts rules has been fined £12,500 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, while a junior colleague has been ordered to pay £7,000.
John Lewis Walker, admitted in 1981, and Carl Temple Holden, admitted in 1990, were solicitors at HJ Walker Sibia in Birkenhead at the time of the alleged wrongdoing. Walker was sole principal at the firm and Holden was an assistant solicitor.
Both men were found to have breached solicitors accounts rules after they failed to promptly return client money and used a client account as a banking facility. According to the judgment, client money was allowed to sit in an account for ‘many years for no proper purpose’ which reflected ‘poorly’ on the solicitor profession.
The tribunal also found the two men had failed to behave in a way which maintained public trust by providing banking facilities through a client account which did not relate to underlying legal transactions.
According to the judgment, Walker had ‘taken his eye off the ball’ and his misconduct ‘arose largely from omission’. However, the tribunal said there had been a ‘long period of poor management and lack of supervision’ at the firm and that Walker had ‘demonstrated a careless and cavalier attitude towards accounts rule’. It noted that there was no allegation of dishonesty and that client money had eventually been returned.
On the second respondent, the tribunal said Holden had ‘substantial experience which should have prevented him from breaching the rules’. However, it noted that he had an unblemished 30-year record as a solicitor, had cooperated fully in the investigation and was not accused of dishonesty.
Walker was ordered to pay a £12,500 fine and £13,000 of costs, while Holden was ordered to pay a £7,000 fine and £7,000 of costs.
In spite of the sanction, lawyers for the Solicitors Regulation Authority were criticised by the tribunal. One allegation against Walker – which was subsequently dismissed – had ‘not been well drafted and had been worded ambiguously’, according to the tribunal. Another unproven allegation lacked ‘essential ingredients’ and the tribunal said it was ‘disappointed by the inadequate drafting of the pleadings’.