A law firm director who involved a client in a defence against a claim by an expert witness without telling the client what was happening has been struck off the roll.
Richard Thomas Clegg, sole director of Norwich firm GMS Law Limited, was facing a £10,500 claim from an expert witness who had been told to set aside a week for the trial of a personal injury action. Although the case settled five months before trial, Clegg failed to cancel the booking, and the witness sued the firm for unpaid disbursements. Judgment was subsequently made in favour of the witness for £9,422 damages and £428 costs.
In defending the claim, Clegg initially said the defendant should be the personal injury client, as she was the only person liable for disbursements. Then, when contemplating an appeal, Clegg misled the client into thinking she was a party to proceedings and continued to act for her where there was the potential for conflict.
The tribunal found that Clegg acted without integrity and had been dishonest. Perhaps motivated by the need to protect his firm’s reputation, he failed to provide the client with full and accurate information, the tribunal said. This included any suggestion that the firm was to blame for incurring the disbursement.
The tribunal said Clegg ‘deliberately and consciously’ withheld the full details of the claim from the client, wrongly said he was defending the claim on her behalf, sought her permission for an appeal and suggested the appeal could be funded by a no win, no fee agreement – all the while knowing the firm was the actual defendant.
During a three-day tribunal hearing last month, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, prosecuting, said Clegg, had sought to explain the expert's claim through a letter and a telephone call to the cleint. In the letter he stated he had defended the claim ‘on your behalf’. This was not correct, and he was fully aware the client was not party to proceedings. In the phone call, he had thanked her ‘for confirming your instructions to appeal the court’s decision’.
Both the witness and the former client had complained to the SRA about Clegg’s conduct.
The solicitor, 44 this year and admitted in 2005, said he had involved the client in his defence as a way of placing pressure on the expert witness. He submitted it had not occurred to him to inform the client of the defence, and he had not made a conscious and deliberate decision to withhold information. He intended the client to receive some of the benefit of any reduction in the expert's claim.
In deciding to strike off, the tribunal cited the High Court decision in James, rejecting Clegg’s submission this was a single client matter in an otherwise unblemished career, and making clear the most significant factor was the nature and extent of the dishonesty. Clegg was also ordered to pay £12,000 costs.