A confrontation between the two partners of an LLP which became subject to a Solicitors Regulation Authority intervention led to police being called, a High Court judgment has revealed.
Sir William Blackburne's judgment in Andrew Roy Williams v The Law Society of England and Wales (Solicitors Regulation Authority) is the latest development in a story that began last October when the regulator shut down Dagenham firm Lillywhite Williams LLP.
Although the SRA later withdrew its intervention into the personal practice of one of the firm's partners, Andrew Williams (pictured), the move left him £100,000 out of pocket and unable to practise. In May this year Williams began action to recover £41,000 in legal aid fees from the regulator.
While the funds have since been released, the High Court judgment upholds the SRA's position in relation to Legal Aid Agency (LAA) monies.
The judgment also reveals details of the circumstances in which Williams found himself subject to intervention after practising for 38 years with what the judge made clear was 'an unblemished regulatory and disciplinary record'.
In mid-2013 Williams agreed that Naresh Chopra, principal of a neighbouring firm, Nationwide Solicitors, could take on his firm's conveyancing practice from his partner who wanted to retire.
The judgment says that the arrangement amounted to a merger of the activities of the two firms under LLP status. 'It was not a success,' the judgment notes.
In early 2014 it emerged that Chopra had been removed from the conveyancing panel of 'a well-known banking group'. Following this the LLP was removed from other lenders' panels and 'brought to its knees as a result'.
Relations between Chopra and Williams 'became very strained'. According to the judgment, 'matters came to a head when Mr Williams concluded that it was not safe to allow Mr Chopra unattended into the LLP's offices. The locks to the front door were changed'.
Chopra responded by turning up at the office saying that he had filed a return at Companies House registering himself as the LLP's owner.
'How Mr Chopra had achieved that was not clear,' the judgment says. 'The disclosure led to a standoff. The police were called. Eventually the matter was resolved by everyone leaving the building. Mr Chopra made no attempt to return.'
The SRA, which was already investigating Nationwide, opened an investigation into Lillywhite Williams. In the circumstances, Williams never completed the transfer of his legal aid franchise agreement to the LLP, meaning that monies owed by the Legal Aid Agency were caught by the Statutory Trust.
The High Court judgment dismisses Williams' challenge to this decision.
An SRA spokesperson said: 'As we said in our submission, these monies fell within the scope of the Statutory Trust, a contention that was upheld by the court.'
In a statement the regulator said: 'There are complex issues around intervention into individual practices within an incorporated law firm. The SRA reached agreement with Mr Williams on terms that included no return to him of client files or money.'
It said that neither the LLP nor three other individuals involved have challenged their interventions and that these remain in place. 'The SRA cannot comment further because investigation into the conduct of relevant individuals continues.'