Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)

Jonathan Leslie Horner

Application 11905-2018

Hearing 13-17 June, 30 July 2019

Reasons 20 August 2019

The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.

On one or more occasions while in practice as a partner at Sussex Law Limited, when preparing wills for clients under which significant gifts on death were made to him and/or members of his family and/or members of the family of an employee of the firm, the respondent had failed to advise or cause clients to obtain independent advice, and had continued to act for such clients notwithstanding such failure, thereby breaching rules 1.02, 1.04, 1.06, 3.01 and 3.04 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007, and principles 2, 4 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011, and failing to achieve outcomes 1.2 and 3.4 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2011.

He had caused or allowed a will that he had prepared for MA to be executed when MA’s mental capacity was in doubt, thereby breaching principles 2, 4 and 6, and failing to achieve outcome 1.12.

He had asked Ms SC to assess FF’s capacity to amend her will when Mr IM had advised that FF lacked capacity to amend her will, in breach of rules 1.02, 1.04, 1.06, 3.01 and 3.04 of the 2007 code.

By reason of the above, the respondent had acted dishonestly. The allegation of dishonesty in relation to the first allegation was limited to the following wills: EK – 9 March 2012; FF – 15 January 2011; CF – 12 June 2016; SS – 23 July 2015; MA – 21 November 2016.

The motivation for the respondent’s misconduct was financial personal gain. The misconduct was planned. The respondent had massively damaged the reputation of the profession by preying on vulnerable clients and abusing his position.

The misconduct was at the highest level and was significant, prolonged and reprehensible. The respondent’s lack of insight as demonstrated in his evidence was astonishing and disturbing in equal measure. The only appropriate sanction was a strike-off.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £56,382.

Brian Milner-Lunt

Application 11931-2019

Admitted 1998

Hearing 6-8 August 2019

Reasons 3 September 2019

The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.

While in practice as a recognised sole practitioner at Milner-Lunt & Co, and while his practising certificate as a solicitor was suspended, the respondent had overcharged the W Estate for fees for the administration of the estate, thereby breaching principles 2, 6 and 10 of the SRA Principles 2011. He had acted dishonestly.

He had improperly transferred money from the firm’s client account to the firm’s business bonus account, thereby breaching principles 2, 6 and 10, and rules 17.7 and 20.3.

He had improperly transferred money from the firm’s business bonus account to the firm’s office account, thereby breaching principles 2, 6 and 10, and rules 17.7 and 20.3 of rules. He had acted dishonestly.

He had failed to comply with an order of the High Court, thereby breaching principles 1, 6 and 7, and failing to achieve outcome 5.3 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.

He had failed to co-operate adequately or at all with the SRA’s investigation into his conduct, thereby breaching principles 6 and 7, and failing to achieve outcomes 10.6, 10.8 and 10.9.

He had failed to co-operate adequately or at all with the Legal Ombudsman in that he had not complied with or responded to the preliminary decisions, thereby breaching principles 6 and 7, and failing to achieve outcome 10.6.

He had failed to reconcile the firm’s client account every five weeks, or at all, in breach of rules 29.1, 29.2 and 29.12 of the rules and principles 8 and 10.

The respondent had been motivated by personal financial gain and his actions were planned. He had caused significant harm to the beneficiaries and to the reputation of the profession. He had demonstrated very little insight into his conduct.

In view of the serious nature of the misconduct, in that it involved dishonesty, the only appropriate and proportionate sanction was to strike the respondent off the roll.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £30,950.

Norbert Ekene Ohanugo

Application 11950-2019

Hearing 2 August 2019

Reasons 23 August 2019

The SDT refused the applicant’s application for removal of conditions imposed by it on 25 September 2012.

The applicant had been suspended from practice for one year, after which he was subject to the conditions that he might not practise as a solicitor, a sole practitioner, a solicitor director of a limited company, partner of a recognised body or member of a limited liability partnership, legal disciplinary practice or alternative business structure, and might only work as a solicitor in employment approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The applicant had only practised for 15 months since 2012 which was insufficient time for him to demonstrate practical rehabilitation within a firm. Sufficient remedial action and progress which addressed the misconduct previously found had not been made.

The applicant said that the need to obtain SRA-approved employment had taken 4-5 months. The SDT hoped that if an application for approved employment in the correct form be submitted in the future, it would be considered by the respondent without delay. The delay previously experienced by the applicant subverted the purpose of the restriction order if it prevented him from gaining employment of choice. That in turn could hamper his ability to show evidence of remedial steps taken and rehabilitation in support of any future application.

The risk to the public and the reputation of the profession was the SDT’s paramount concern and took precedence over any inconvenience or impact on the applicant or on future employers. The imposition of restrictions on the applicant’s practising certificate continued to be appropriate and proportionate in the present case.

The applicant was ordered to pay costs of £2,123.

 Michael Kenneth Smith

Application 11877-2018

Admitted 1976

Hearing 1 August 2019

Reasons 27 August 2019

The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.

By failing to carry out adequate enquiry in relation to DSR and NSK before allowing them into his firm, the respondent had breached principles 6 and 8 of the SRA Principles 2011.

By permitting DSR and NSK to maintain control over his firm he had breached principles 2, 6 and 8.  

By failing to have in place adequate systems to ensure he had sufficient supervision and control over DSR and NSK he had breached principles 6 and 8 and had failed to achieve outcomes (7.2), (7.3) and (7.8) of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.

In his capacity as the firm’s compliance officer for legal practice and compliance officer for finance and administration, by failing to ensure compliance with the firm’s statutory obligations and failing to report material failures of those rules to the SRA, he had breached rules 8.5(c)(i), 8.5(c)(iii), 8.5(e)(i) and 8.5(e)(iii) of the SRA Authorisation Rules 2011, and principles 6, 7 and 8 of the SRA Principles 2011.

By failing to ensure that client money and assets were properly protected he had breached principles 5, 6 and 10.  

By failing to keep accounting records properly written up he had breached rule 29.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011.

The respondent’s motivation was simply that he wanted to retire and no longer cared about the firm or his obligations. Approximately 30 clients had raised concerns and there had been a payout from the Compensation Fund of approximately £13,000. The reputation of the profession had been significantly damaged by the respondent’s complete disregard for his responsibilities.

He was given some credit for his admissions, but he had not been found to have a significant level of insight.

The only appropriate sanction was a strike-off. The respondent’s desire to retire and walk away from the firm was not an exceptional circumstance. Conduct such as the respondent’s represented a real danger to the public. It had, for example, the potential to open the door to money laundering and the facilitation of terrorist financing.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £13,548.

Richard Stephen Davies

Application 11939-2019

Admitted 1973

Hearing 7 August 2019

Reasons 3 September 2019

The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.

While in sole practice as a solicitor under the style of Richard Stephen Davies, in respect of the estate of client A (deceased) he had breached principles 2, 4, 5, 6 and 10 of the SRA Principles and rule 17.2 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011, and had failed to achieve outcome 1.2 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011. He had acted dishonestly.

He had made one or more false or misleading representations to his insurer, in breach of principles 2 and 6. He had acted dishonestly.

In respect of a number of property conveyances, he had failed to register title, pay stamp duty, pay land registry fees or inform clients of such failures, thereby breaching rules 1.02, 1.04, 1.05 and 1.06 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007, and principles 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10, and failing to achieve outcome 1.2.

He had made accounting errors in up to 37 matters, and in 43 matters had held money in the client account where there had been no activity for a year, in breach of principles 6 and 8.

He had retained around £14,908.27 on account in the matter of client E (deceased) without explanation, in breach of rules 14.3 and 14.4 of the rules and principles 6 and 8.

He had acted in breach of rules 1.2, 6.1, 14.3 and 14.4 of the rules.

The respondent’s motivation for his misconduct was to hold or take money to which he was not entitled.

He had caused considerable harm to the profession’s reputation. The misconduct had been perpetrated against clients who had trusted him. He appeared to have no insight into his misconduct.

The respondent had been found to have been dishonest in two different matters; dishonesty alone constituted the most serious misconduct and would almost invariably lead to strike-off. No exceptional circumstances relating to the acts of dishonesty had been found.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £35,200.