A tribunal has rejected a solicitor’s unusual plea to strike him off the roll, instead imposing a £10,000 fine for misconduct.
Paul Geoffrey Hayward said he fully admitted breaching Solicitors Regulation Authority rules over property sales and said he no longer wanted to be on the roll as he would not be able to gain employment in the sector. Given his financial situation, he said, he would prefer to be struck off than fined.
But the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal opted not to formally end Hayward’s legal career, saying that despite his request the sanction still had to reflect the level of misconduct.
The judgment said: ‘Whilst Mr Hayward’s misconduct was serious, it was not so serious that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction in order to protect the public and the reputation of the profession was to strike him off the roll…. sanctions such as a suspension or strike off were disproportionate to the proven misconduct.’
The tribunal heard that Hayward, admitted in 1999, had worked his way up to salaried partner at after joining Bristol firm Wards Solicitors as a trainee. He admitted breaching undertakings given on behalf of the firm and failing to rectify the issues arising. He left the firm in 2019 and no longer holds a practising certificate.
The firm had reported concerns relating to irregularities in conveyancing matters conducted by Hayward whilst acting for long-time clients. In one case, Hayward undertook to discharge any charges on completion of a property sale, but took more than eight months to complete this. A charge on another property was not redeemed for at least 10 months.
The SRA said that Hayward had failed to act in the best interests of his clients, who would have expected someone of his status to manage their property portfolio with the required skill and ability.
Hayward, who had no previous disciplinary matters, said that the misconduct stemmed from one error relating to a single property. He had believed he could rectify the position with no loss to any party and was worried that his mistake would cause a problem with a good client.
He opposed the SRA’s application for almost £32,000 costs, pointing out he had made admissions from the outset and responded to all correspondence. The SDT made an order for almost £21,000 costs, noting that Hayward had savings and equity in his property that ‘far exceeded’ the sums he would have to pay.