A prominent agricultural solicitor whose strike-off was overturned can return to practice from next month, the High Court has ruled.
Mrs Justice Carr had already quashed the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to ban Peter Rhys Williams after discovering ‘serious procedural irregularity’ in the dishonesty finding.
Following another hearing last week, Carr opted against remitting the case to the SDT and imposed a nine-month suspension, effective from December 2016.
She also quashed the order that Williams pay £195,000 (70%) towards the SRA’s prosecution costs, reducing that bill to £60,000. The SRA will have to pay the remainder of the total costs of £279,000.
Williams had been banned in December 2016 for his role in advising a client on a property sale. He was found by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to have acted dishonestly and without integrity in hiding money made from a property sale from a mortgage lender. Williams, a published author on agricultural holdings law, was with Wiltshire firm Wilsons Solicitors at the time of the misconduct and went on to join Devon firm Michelmores.
The dishonesty element was found in court to be unproven, but the allegations of failing to act with integrity and failing to maintain public trust in the profession were retained.
The SRA maintained Williams should still be struck off, while his lawyers argued that he had effectively been ‘punished enough’.
In Williams v Solicitors Regulation Authority, Carr said Williams had made four separate misrepresentations to Northern Rock in two letters sent in 2011. The judge said he was not attempting to make any personal gain, but he had intended to create a false impression about the property price and was directly responsible.
She added that Williams had not ‘come close’ to showing insight into the finding of lack of integrity, but he had made some concessions and did co-operate in the investigation.
'Although there is a need to protect both the public and the reputation of the legal profession from future harm by Mr Williams by removing his ability to practise, neither the protection of the public nor the protection of the reputation of the legal profession justified striking off the roll,' said Carr. 'Mr Williams' professional performance, including a lack of sufficient insight on his part, demonstrates the need to underline the gravity of his conduct. Nine months is a term that will both punish and deter whilst being proportionate to the seriousness of the misconduct. Public confidence demands no lesser sanction.'
Sir Brian Leveson, who agreed with the judgment, expressed his trust that Williams would 'be able to restore for himself the reputation that he previously held'.