A solicitor who made an ‘inappropriate and offensive’ remark during an informal conversation with a colleague has been fined £2,000 by the regulator.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority said Richard John Hetherington, 69, had been attempting to express a compliment in relation to a firm of solicitors which made reference to the ethnicity of its members. The compliment, made while Hetherington attended Nottingham Magistrates Court to represent a client at a hearing in 2017, was ‘meant innocently and genuinely but was misguided’. No-one was present at the time apart from Hetherington and the colleagues referenced, and no further details were provided about what was actually said.
The solicitor of 45 years admitted that by making the remark he failed to act with integrity, failed to behave in a way which maintains public trust, and failed to run his business or carry out his role in way that encouraged equality of opportunity and respect for diversity.
Hetherington recognised his conduct was unacceptable and had already attended a course on equality and diversity of his own volition. The SRA said he now has a better understanding of words and conduct which may be inappropriate, and he maintains this was an isolated and atypical lapse in behaviour which would not be repeated in the future.
The fine was imposed through a regulatory settlement agreement between Hetherington and the SRA. The regulator confirmed that the agreement means a decision to refer him to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has been overturned. He will pay £390 costs.