A former junior solicitor struck off after leaving confidential documents on a train has been allowed to continue to practise after the Solicitors Regulation Authority agreed to drop the case.

Claire Matthews had faced the prospect of a re-hearing after the regulator agreed last year that her case should be remitted to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

The SRA has now successfully applied to the tribunal to withdraw the allegations completely, with no order as to costs. This means proceedings are now concluded and Matthews can resume her legal career, albeit with conditions on her practising certificate.

Following the decision, Matthews said: ‘I hope that the outcome will help other junior solicitors who face similar, difficult situations, in knowing these decisions can sometimes be successfully challenged. I thank everyone who has kindly donated and offered their words of support, without it, I could never have envisioned the result. I am sincerely grateful for all the hard work and effort put in by everyone involved.’

Matthews’ case received unprecedented attention from the legal profession after she was struck off by the SDT in March 2020 following a hearing in which she represented herself.

The tribunal found that she had misled her firm Capsticks LLP about the whereabouts of a locked suitcase containing client documents which she had left on a train. Matthews, then aged 29, had been working for Capsticks for four weeks when the incident happened and been a qualified solicitor for less than a year.

In April 2020, Matthews appealed the SDT decision with advice and assistance from lawyers working pro bono: Gideon Habel and Emma Walker from Leigh Day, Mary O’Rourke QC and Rosalind Scott Bell from Deans Court Chambers, Mark Harries QC from Serjeants’ Inn and Marianne Butler from Fountain Court.

Meanwhile, Matthews launched her own GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of appealing the decision, raising more than £14,000 from hundreds of members of the legal profession. Thanks to the case concluding without going to another SDT hearing, she is able to fulfil her commitment to donate surplus funds – almost £7,000 – to mental wellbeing charity LawCare.

During her appeal, Matthews’ lawyers provided expert medical evidence of conditions relevant to her mental health. The SRA subsequently obtained its own medical evidence and concluded that a re-hearing would not be in the public interest.

Emma Walker, of Leigh Day’s regulatory and disciplinary team, said the case was an example of the value of getting expert input in regulatory investigations and proceedings.

She added: ‘It was disappointing that neither the SRA nor the SDT saw it as their role to identify the need for expert evidence, because that would have been appropriate in this case. Since Claire’s case was heard in the SDT, both the SRA and SDT have published guidance on health issues.

‘Though this came too late for Claire, it is to be welcomed by the wider profession. It has been a real privilege to advise Claire and I am pleased she has been able to get expert input, which was critical to the outcome in this case.’

 

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