The Solicitors Regulation Authority has stated it will continue to act upon allegations of sexual misconduct despite losing a high-profile case in the High Court last month.
SRA board chair Anna Bradley confirmed in a statement today that the regulator would not appeal the judgment involving former Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith following advice from leading counsel.
Beckwith had been fined £35,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after he was found to have acted without integrity in his relationship with a junior colleague. This finding – as well as an order to pay £200,000 towards the SRA’s costs – was overturned by the court. Judges said the requirement to act with integrity obliged Beckwith not to take unfair advantage of his colleague, and on the tribunal’s own findings, that had not happened. The tribunal’s final statement that he fell below accepted standards was ‘not coherent’, the court ruled.
It is unusual for the SRA to make a lengthy statement following any prosecution, whether successful or unsuccessful, but Bradley said that further comment was helpful given the relevance of the judgment to those involved and the wider legal sector.
She stressed that the case had been properly brought – and certified by the tribunal – on evidence gathered in response to a serious complaint.
Bradley said: ‘We welcome the court’s firm confirmation that our principles of acting with integrity and upholding public confidence comply with human rights standards by providing the necessary degree of legal certainty, and that ‘common sense dictates’ that those principles are entitled to reach into a solicitor’s personal life.
‘We also welcome the clarity of the court’s confirmation that the public is entitled to expect that junior staff and members of the profession are treated with respect by more senior colleagues. Solicitors must not, as the court emphasised, "take unfair advantage of others" whether in a professional or personal capacity.
‘In overturning the tribunal’s decision, the court expressly limited itself to the circumstances of this case. Our case did not depend on the issue of consent. Rather, we argued that the circumstances indicated vulnerability and abuse of a position of seniority and authority. Those and some other key facts were not found proved by the tribunal. The court’s judgment was based on, and limited to, the application of our principles to the findings of fact made by the tribunal in this case.’
The Gazette understands that the SRA has around 140 ongoing investigations relating to sexual misconduct. In the days following the Beckwith judgment, the regulator faced criticism in some quarters for interfering in solicitors’ private lives. Gregory Treverton-Jones QC, co-author of The Solicitor’s Handbook, said the SRA should not require solicitors to be ‘paragons of virtue’ and warned against prying into the lives of those it regulates.
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