The Solicitors Regulation Authority has defended its decision to prosecute a young solicitor who left a briefcase on a train, after junior lawyers said they have lost confidence in the regulator.
Recently-qualified Claire Matthews was struck off last month after leaving sensitive documents on a train and subsequently lying to colleagues. Matthews said she was ‘overcome by uncontrollable fear, anxiety and panic’ when she realised her mistake.
In a letter to the Junior Lawyers Division, the SRA said it was satisfied that its handling of the case was appropriate. On Matthews’ mental health, the regulator said: ‘We need to balance carefully the public interest against the interests of the individual… As you will be aware though, neither a person’s junior position, nor health, will be an answer where the person has been found guilty of culpable dishonesty.’
CEO Paul Philip added that Matthews had not been subject to a toxic working environment. ‘You mention the issue of junior lawyers working in toxic environments and/or hiding regulatory issues or being unable to speak out, out of fear. That is something that we take very seriously – although it was not an issue in this case, we understand how difficult it can be for people in such a situation,’ he wrote.
‘In this case, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that this is not about a solicitor leaving a briefcase on a train, but that the evidence of her colleagues was that she lied to them on a number of occasions about the matter,’ Philip added.
Earlier this month, the JLD told the regulator it was ‘remarkably concerned’ that the SRA had continued its prosecution given what Matthews had reported about her mental health at the time of the misconduct.
Matthews plans to appeal the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s judgment supported by lawyers working pro bono.