A solicitor struck off the roll could have something to offer the legal profession, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has said.
Mark Bryon Smeed, admitted in 1994, worked as an assistant solicitor at Croydon firm Atkins Hope between 2012 and 2014.
A judgment published by the tribunal today states that Smeed admitted creating and sending correspondence dated 14 November 2013 and 6 January 2014 to the Legal Aid Agency and his client that was false and/or misleading, in breach of Solicitors Regulation Authority principles.
The tribunal accepted Smeed’s admissions and found an ancillary allegation of dishonesty proved beyond reasonable doubt.
The judgment states that a client had complained to the firm on 12 May 2014. The firm investigated, setting out its findings in a letter to Smeed, who resigned on 12 June.
The firm then reported to the SRA that two documents had been created by Smeed and purportedly sent to the LAA chasing progress on a matter after the client had raised concerns about lack of activity.
The firm wrote to the client to apologise and paid compensation.
The regulator wrote to Smeed about the allegation on 29 April 2015. Responding in a letter dated 9 June 2015, Smeed said he had been carrying an increasingly heavy workload at the time, and the situation was getting more and more stressful.
The judgment states: ‘He was working extremely hard and his caseload, which was primarily public or children work, was starting to come under the strain of court deadlines. He agreed that there had been delay on his part in progressing this client’s matter due to all the other demands on his time.
‘It was against this deteriorating background that he created the letter and email which formed the basis of the allegation.’
The firm’s ‘thorough’ internal investigation did not reveal any further cases and no issue arose in terms of the court being misled, the judgment states.
Referring to the 9 June letter, the tribunal said Smeed showed insight and courage in his full and frank admission at an early stage. His mitigation submissions were ‘heartfelt’.
However, the tribunal’s sympathy towards Smeed had to be counterbalanced against the dishonest conduct found proved against him.
The tribunal ordered that Smeed be struck off the roll. He was also ordered to pay costs of £3,500.
Despite making a striking-off determination, the tribunal believed the risks that had led to the dishonest acts ‘might be capable of control with the implementation of protective measures if an appropriate firm were found to welcome the respondent into their employment with supervision and other appropriate restrictions and with the approval of the SRA’.
It seemed to the tribunal that Smeed ‘had something to offer to the public and providers of legal services generally subject to there being practical, measured safeguards in place’.
During mitigation, Smeed also mentioned frustration at the length of time it took for the SRA to bring proceedings.
The tribunal said there was reason to share his concern. ‘There was no obvious explanation for the delay from 28 July 2014 when the incident was reported by the firm to the SRA and 11 April 2016. This understandably increased the pressure and uncertainty on the respondent and those around him,’ the judgment states.
A spokesperson for the SRA said: 'This was a complex matter and the focus of our investigation changed on more than one occasion when new evidence was brought to light.
'We are always striving to deal with disciplinary matters as quickly as possible as this is better for consumers, the profession and the solicitor involved.
'However, due to the nature of our work, it is not always possible to conclude matters as quickly as we would all like.'
Atkins Hope declined to comment.