An experienced tax lawyer has been jailed for 14 months after being found in contempt over breaches of undertakings to the court.
Stephen David Jones, who formerly practised in Central London, was sentenced by Mr Justice Zacaroli on Friday after a three-day hearing. It was found that he had known it was impossible that his undertakings could ever be met.
Alexandra Felix, representing Jones, had urged the judge to impose a suspended sentence, stressing it was a ‘sad day when an officer of this court comes before it’, mand saying Jones had already lost his practice and was inevitably going to be struck off.
But Zacaroli J said he was not satisfied Jones had purged his contempt, and noted his status as a professional ‘cuts both ways, since the failure to comply with undertakings is exacerbated when it comes to an officer of the court’. Jones, admitted in 1986, had provided international legal and tax planning services through London firm Jirehouse for more than 20 years before the practice was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority earlier this year.
The court heard that Jirehouse had been instructed on a multi-million-pound international property deal, but by the time of intended completion of the transaction the firm did not have the money it was supposed to hold.
Jones made what was described by the judge as an 'elaborate series of excuses', following a request that the client provide a a further $9.3m in order to complete the transaction. After further delays, the clients applied for a freezing order against Jirehouse. Jones agreed personally to transfer the $9.3m - plus a further £4.9m into segregated accounts within days.
Jones, who chose not to give evidence during the hearing, submitted that he hoped the court would understand he had done all he could to 'put matters right and purge any contempt'.
The judge found that Jones breached the undertaking and that he knew it was impossible to comply. He also breached an undertaking to procure repayment of another outstanding facility, and deliberately breached undertakings to explain what had happened to transaction funds in preceding months.
The judge added: 'There is an important difference between a case where it subsequently transpires that compliance was impossible and a case where an undertaking was given in circumstances where the contemnor knew compliance was impossible.'