The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has slashed around £54,000 from the regulator’s claimed costs after a prosecution of a married couple which resulted in a rebuke and a reprimand.
Odette Green and Simon John Bishop were subject to a three-and-a-half-year investigation resulting in a four-day hearing before the tribunal last November, before they were sanctioned with the most lenient penalties available.
Following the decision, the Solicitors Regulation Authority presented a schedule of costs coming to £84,000 - including a £34,500 fixed fee with the regulator’s legal partner Capsticks – which the tribunal described as ‘disproportionate’.
The tribunal said the SRA had the respondents’ formal response to allegations against them as far back as December 2018, and should have reviewed the case much more quickly before withdrawing certain charges (some during the hearing itself).
The tribunal said: ‘The case ultimately brought for determination was considerably more limited than that which was investigated. A four-day hearing where the most serious allegations had rightly been withdrawn and extensive admissions were made was excessive. The tribunal considered there was significant duplication in the documentation.’
Joint costs were reduced to £30,000, which both Green and Bishop submitted they were unable to meet in any case.
The tribunal heard that Green, a non-solicitor conveyancing manager with Midlands firms Parkinson Wright LLP and later Thursfields Legal Limited, admitted acting upon instructions from her husband on property transactions without first obtaining express written authority. Bishop was described as a well-regarded property solicitor in Worcestershire for many years and had been a business associate of clients involved in the transactions, effectively now acting as an agent.
It was admitted that Green allowed her husband access to the client file, including at their home, and in doing so breached SRA principles. Bishop was subject to similar allegations, including undertaking reviews of client files when he was not employed by any firm.
The couple said that all the clients knew of Bishop’s involvement with their transactions and were very happy with the service provided and conduct shown. There were no client complaints in relation to any matter raised by the SRA.
The tribunal found there was no attempt to hide anything improper or any motivation other than doing the best by their clients, and any misconduct was a result of naivete.
As a non-solicitor, Green was rebuked, while Bishop was reprimanded.