The Solicitors Regulation Authority has been ordered to pay a solicitor’s costs after allegations were brought based on what the tribunal called ‘errors and misunderstandings’.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal opted to make the regulator pay Adrian Ring’s costs after unnecessarily forcing him into a full hearing for a sanction that could have been handed out internally.
Ring, formerly with London firm Lawrence Stephens Solicitors, was found to have filed a witness statement explaining a mistake with an assertion that was untrue and misleading, as well as failing to attend court or comply with court directions. But the tribunal found Ring had been careless rather than reckless or dishonest when he made an inadvertent error in his statement. The tribunal agreed this misconduct was worthy of a £2,000 fine with £5,000 costs.
With a number of other allegations found unproved, the tribunal ordered the SRA pay £27,000 towards Ring’s costs – a relatively rare decision from the tribunal, particularly where some misconduct has been found. Allegations were found not to have been properly brought and based on a series of mistakes, including investigators failing to obtain a relevant file and making what Ring’s counsel called ‘legal errors’ which made the case ‘unsustainable’.
The tribunal heard that investigating teams spent 234 hours on the matter, with a further 165 hours for preparing the prosecution. A total of 15 different fee earners were listed by the SRA as having been engaged.
Ring, a solicitor for 18 years, was investigated after a complaint from a former client. Acting for a property owner in a repossession claim, he had to apply in 2016 for the court to set aside a default judgment made against his client after a series of procedural issues. A witness statement for this application was alleged to have misled the court.
The SRA submitted that Ring had failed to act in his client’s best interests or provide a proper standard of service, and was therefore in breach of two principles.
But Gregory Treverton-Jones QC, for Ring, said the SRA had brought a ‘heavy handed and in some respects very unattractive’ case following a ‘flawed’ investigation. He said the regulator had cited no more than negligence, and argued that none of the failings that occurred amounted to professional misconduct.
The tribunal said Ring had ‘clearly been careless’ in failing to check his statement, but he believed it to be true at the time.