The Times newspaper’s former legal director is to be suspended from practising for six months from 16 December after a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing ruled that he had knowingly allowed a court to be misled through his ‘win at all costs’ approach.
Alastair Brett, who was admitted in 1975, will have 28 days to appeal.
The prosecution by the Solicitors Regulation Authority concerned The Times’ conduct in litigation following the exposure by one of its journalists of the identity of a police officer blogging anonymously as Nightjack. Patrick Foster, a journalist then working for The Times, discovered Nightjack’s identity by unlawful access to email accounts.
However the tribunal heard that during subsequent litigation before Mr Justice Eady, Brett knowingly allowed the court to proceed on the assumption that Foster had not used illegal methods. The SRA told the tribunal that, in June 2009, ‘Brett knowingly or recklessly allowed a witness statement to be served in support of its defence which created a misleading impression’.
Brett denied the allegations, claiming he instructed Foster to undertake research to demonstrate that DC Horton’s identity could be ascertained through openly available material.
In sanctioning Brett, the tribunal described him as ‘a deeply unconvincing witness’ who ‘blamed everyone but himself’. It found that Brett ‘adopted a win at all costs approach to the Nightjack litigation’.
The tribunal found that Brett had failed to act with integrity contrary to Rule 1.02 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007, and knowingly allowed the court to be misled in the conduct of litigation contrary to Rule 11.01 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007. He was also ordered to pay £30,000 costs.
Antony Townsend, SRA chief executive, said: ‘Solicitors hold positions of great trust, so it is essential that they act with integrity and do not allow courts to be misled. The public needs to know that if solicitors fail to uphold these standards they will be held to account.’
The full judgment will be published within the next seven weeks, the SRA said.