Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)
Hearing 16-19 January 2023
Reasons 17 February 2023
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be subject to an indefinite restriction order in the following terms: that he might not (i) practise as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised or recognised body or as a freelance solicitor; (ii) be a partner or member of an LLP, LDP or ABS or other authorised or recognised body; (iii) be a head of legal practice/compliance officer for legal practice or a head of finance and administration/compliance officer for finance and administration; (iv) hold client money; or (v) be a signatory on any client account, with liberty to either party to apply to the SDT to vary those conditions.
While in practice as a solicitor (and practising on his own account) at UK & Co Solicitors Limited, the respondent had (a) allowed approximately £17,906.93 of client money to be withdrawn from client bank account in circumstances in which it was not permitted to be withdrawn, in breach of rule 5.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2019; (b) held that client money as physical cash, thereby failing to ensure that client money was paid promptly into client bank account in breach of rule 2.3 of the rules; (c) mixed that client money with other types of funds in breach of rule 4.1 of the rules, and of principles 2 and 7 of the SRA Principles 2019.
Even though he was the firm’s COLP and COFA, as well as the firm’s principal, he had failed to inform the SRA about the manner in which it had handled client funds during the period that it had no access to banking facilities, thereby breaching rule 7.7 of the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs 2019 and principle 2 of the SRA Principles 2019.
He had failed to maintain accurate books of account, thereby breaching rule 1.2(f) of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 and principle 8 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, and rule 8.1 of the 2019 rules.
Between the date the firm was authorised as a licensed body and the date of the SRA’s intervention, he had failed to conduct compliant client account reconciliations at least once every five weeks, thereby breaching rule 29.12 of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 2011, and rule 8.3 of the 2019 rules.
The respondent had been motivated at the material time by his mistaken belief that he was acting in the best interests of the clients given the circumstances. Further, he was motivated by the most convenient solution for the firm.
Clients did not appear to have been affected beyond any inconvenience caused by collecting their monies in cash from the firm and the associated risk to them in so doing given the amounts involved. However, the harm to the reputation to the solicitors’ profession as a consequence of the misconduct was profound, given the cavalier approach taken by the respondent in his handling of client monies.
Restrictions in the form of conditions upon the way in which the respondent continued to practise was the appropriate sanction.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £25,000.
John Charles Wright
Hearing 7 February 2023
Reasons 17 February 2023
The SDT ordered that the respondent should pay a fine of £32,000.
While in practice as a solicitor and manager at Ashley Wilson LLP, having agreed that the firm should not act for both the purchaser and vendor to a conveyancing transaction, the respondent had failed to disclose to the firm and the firm’s clients, the vendors, of his continued direct involvement with the purchase of the property, namely (i) in the financial arrangements regarding the purchase of the property; (ii) in providing instructions to the buyers’ instructed solicitors in relation to the transaction; (iii) in the preparation of a pre-action protocol letter to the firm alleging a misrepresentation of the property and seeking damages in respect of the same; and (iv) in the instruction of counsel by the buyers’ solicitors in relation to the alleged misrepresentation of the property. He had thereby breached principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011, and in circumstances where he was a manager of the firm and knew that the firm acted for the vendors, he had acted where there was an own client conflict and had accordingly failed to achieve outcome 3.4 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.
The respondent had instructed the buyers’ solicitors to make payments from the client account, which were not connected to an underlying transaction, in breach of rule 14.5 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011, thereby breaching principle 6.
The parties invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with a statement of agreed facts and proposed outcome.
The respondent had been motivated by his desire to reduce the purchase price of the property to his benefit and the detriment of the firm’s client. His conduct was in direct conflict with the duties he owed to his firm’s client.
It was an isolated incident in a previously unblemished career. The respondent had cooperated with the applicant and had made early and full admissions.
The appropriate sanction was a financial penalty. The respondent’s conduct was very serious, such that it fell within level 4 of the SDT’s indicative fine bands. The parties had agreed a fine in the sum of £32,000. The SDT considered that the agreed amount adequately reflected the serious of the misconduct and accordingly approved the agreed sanction.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £15,600 plus VAT.
Hearing 23 January 2023
Reasons 20 February 2023
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.
In the context of seeking investment, in response to a request by S for ‘proof of employment’, the respondent had written to S attaching two pictures of a business card from Blake Morgan LLP bearing the respondent’s name and stating ‘you will also see from my LinkedIn I have worked there since earlier this year’ when he knew he was not, at the material time, in employment as a solicitor either at the firm or at all. He had thereby breached principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011 and had failed to achieve outcome 11.1 of the SRA Code of Conduct. He had acted dishonestly.
He had misled M in a WhatsApp message when he stated that ‘the return would be funded from a number of sources. Partly from my monthly salary as a lawyer’ when he knew he did not have a salary as a lawyer. He had thereby breached principles 2 and 6. He had acted dishonestly.
He had told the SRA that:
‘... anyone would have my full name and would, in theory, be able to look me up on LinkedIn, which is what I assume happened. At this point, in theory, and in practice, it seems, it was viewed and interpreted that I worked at Blake Morgan. However, ... that is only because I do not use LinkedIn often and never have’ when he knew he had expressly drawn S’s attention to his LinkedIn profile. He had thereby breached principles 2, 6 and 7. He had acted dishonestly.
The respondent had been motivated by avarice. He had pursued a considered and calculated path of conduct and he had had direct control and responsibility for the circumstances giving rise to his misconduct.
S and M had both experienced financial loss and personal stress as a result of their interactions with the respondent, and the consequential damage to the reputation of the profession by his misconduct was significant.
It was clear that there were no exceptional circumstances in the case to make striking off, which would be the normal and necessary penalty in cases of dishonesty, a disproportionate sanction. The only appropriate sanction was therefore for the respondent to be struck off the roll.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £5,000.
Gurpralad Landa Singh and Kim Singh Landa
Hearing 17 January 2023
Reasons 20 January 2023
The SDT ordered that the first respondent (admitted 1981) should pay a fine of £12,500 and that the second respondent (admitted 2006) should pay a fine of £15,000.
The first respondent had, in his capacity as COLP/COFA for the firm, failed to ensure that adequate systems were in place for accurately recording dealings with client money, which had contributed to the creation of a shortage on client account of £37,475.65 as at 31 October 2019, and had thereby breached rule 1.2(e) of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 2011 and principle 8 of the SRA Principles 2011.
In his capacity as supervisor, he had failed to ensure that adequate enquiries were made in respect of two transactions that bore the hallmarks of property hijacks, thereby breaching principles 6 and 8, and failing to achieve outcomes 7.6 and 7.8 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct.
He had made transfers from client account otherwise than in respect of instructions relating to an underlying transaction as part of the sales of two properties, thereby breaching rule 14.5 of the rules and principle 6.
The second respondent had, when acting in relation to the assignment of a contract for the purchase of land, (i) paid out £100,000 of his client’s funds without adequate authority to do so, thereby breaching principles 4, 6 and 10; (ii) authorised payments out of client account which had resulted in a deficit of £32,000 on client account, thereby breaching rule 20.7 of the rules; and (iii) made transfers from client account in two matters otherwise than in respect of instructions relating to an underlying transaction, thereby breaching rule 14.5 of the rules.
The respondents had admitted the allegations, and the parties had invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against them in accordance with a statement of agreed facts and outcome.
The first respondent was an experienced solicitor, who had undertaken the compliance roles for the firm. A financial penalty was appropriate in his case: the proposed fine of £12,500 adequately reflected the seriousness of his misconduct.
The second respondent was also an experienced solicitor: a financial penalty of £15,000 was appropriate as his misconduct was more serious than that of the first respondent.
The respondents were ordered to pay costs of £30,000, to be apportioned 50/50 between them.
Fry Law Limited
The SRA intervened on 6 April 2023 into the remainder of Fry Law Limited. The firm closed on 22 September 2021 and administrators were appointed on the same day. The firm’s former head office was at Swandec, 550 Valley Road, Nottingham NG5 1JJ.
The grounds of intervention were:
- The firm was placed into administration on 22 September 2021 which is a relevant insolvency event – paragraph 32(1)(c) of Schedule 2, Administration of Justice Act 1985;
- It was necessary to intervene to protect the interests of clients and former clients of the firm and/or the interests of the beneficiaries of any trust of which the firm is or was a trustee – paragraph 32(1)(e) of Schedule 2, Administration of Justice Act 1985.
No intervention agent has been appointed.
The practice papers and money are under the control of the administrators, Begbies Traynor, so the SRA will be making arrangements to take possession of the remaining client money and closed files from them.
Bridge & Co
The SRA intervened on 28 March 2023 into Bridge & Co, the former recognised sole practice of Martin Bridge, deceased.
The firm closed on 2 November 2021. Mr Bridge practised from his home address at 20 Tipton Road, Sedgley, Dudley DY3 1BD.
Mr Bridge died on 23 January 2023.
The ground of intervention was: it was necessary to intervene to protect the interests of clients or former clients of the firm – paragraph 1(1)(m) of Schedule 1 – Part I Solicitors Act 1974.
No intervention agent has been appointed.
The SRA is making arrangements to collect the remaining client files and other practice papers shortly.