A former sole practitioner who practised for 45 years has been struck off for his dormant firm’s involvement in a notorious investment fund.
Geoffrey Martin Signey, sole director and principal of Preston firm Signey Law Limited, failed to successfully pursue a single claim during his two-year tenure at the firm.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that audits of the firm’s files reviewed 242 of the 567 cases for financial mis-selling on the firm’s system, finding 80 claims which were already statute barred and only two where proceedings were even issued.
Signey told the tribunal he accepted that he would be struck off and this would be a ‘relief’ in some ways. He felt he had been unwillingly kept on the roll for four years while proceedings were completed.
Signey drew nine payments coming to more than £4m from the Axiom fund, an investment pot designed for firms to finance the running of claims.
Improper use of the fund has been the cause of a number of SRA prosecutions that have ended up at the tribunal.
Signey had previously worked as an in-house solicitor and spent four years out of the profession before returning in 2010 to run his own firm and pursue financial irregularity claims against mortgage lenders.
In February 2012, he purported to transfer his shareholding to C Ltd, a company wholly owned and managed by a non-solicitor subsequently alleged to have defrauded the Axiom fund.
Signey was charged with agreeing to sell the business to an owner not authorised by the SRA, and without having made any adequate inquiries as to the buyer. He admitted these allegations.
He said he had been faced with closing what he called a ‘basket case’ firm unless he could obtain some funding, but was further charged with recklessly or carelessly failing to undertake any due diligence on Axiom prior to applying for the funds. He then failed to comply with the terms of the funding agreement or to ensure they were applied only towards ‘eligible legal expenses’. Again he admitted these allegations.
At the end of Signey’s involvement with the firm, the SRA alleged he accepted a £30,000 payment when resigning as director, in part paid out of monies from the investment fund. Dishonesty was alleged in relation to this charge.
Signey had informed the tribunal he did not wish to give evidence because he felt the SRA would concentrate on the minutiae of the case, and he was not prepared to put himself through the experience. The tribunal found he had no coherent or justifiable basis to accept the payment.
As well as being struck off, he was ordered to pay £44,860 in costs.