A solicitor has been struck off after admitting he ‘hoodwinked’ himself into thinking it was acceptable to mislead counsel and the court.
Duncan Burtwell, admitted in 2004, had been told about the existence of a key piece of evidence but failed to disclose this as he feared it would weaken his client’s claim. Instead he kept quiet for months, allowing a district judge to proceed on the basis the evidence was not available.
Burtwell was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after reaching an agreed outcome with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The tribunal heard that Burtwell, then a consultant for virtual firm Scott-Moncrieff and Associates Ltd, was acting for a client in a claim against Hampshire Police for injuries sustained during the execution of a warrant in their home.
Ahead of a strike-out application hearing, the claimant’s sister told Burtwell in 2019 that she had a copy of the warrant, and she sent him a scanned copy in the post.
When Burtwell instructed counsel, he failed to tell them the warrant had been located and left the impression it was not available. He later told the SRA his response had been ‘weak’ as he did not want to put counsel under pressure by requiring them to change their case at the last minute. Instead Burtwell retained a ‘childish wish’ that he would be able to correct the position after the hearing.
District Judge Nichols, sitting at Basingstoke County Court, rejected the strike-out application partly on the basis that the warrant was not available in evidence.
Later that year, Burtwell told counsel and the defendant to the claim that the warrant had been found, which was again misleading. He repeated that untrue statement in amended particulars of claim.
Burtwell later suggested his response was partly informed by the defendant’s attitude and conduct of the claim. He knew he had an overriding duty not to mislead the court but said his thought processes were ‘muddled’ and it emerged to him only after the judge’s comments on how serious the matter was.
In mitigation not endorsed by the SRA, Burtwell said he had moved from criminal defence into civil actions against the police and was a ‘self-taught civil litigator’ practising remotely without formal supervision.
He agreed to be struck off and to pay £15,000 costs.