•  Application 11558- 2016
  • Admitted 2006
  • Hearing 3-4 January 2018
  • Reasons 26 January 2018

The SDT ordered that the respondent should be suspended from practice as a solicitor for 30 months from 4 January 2018. Upon the expiry of that term of suspension, the respondent should be subject to the following conditions: that he might not practise as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised or recognised body; be a partner or member of a limited liability partnership, legal disciplinary practice or alternative business structure or other authorised or recognised body; be a compliance officer for legal practice or a compliance officer for finance and administration; be a signatory on any client account; or work as a solicitor other than in employment approved by the SRA, with liberty to either party to apply to vary those conditions.

(The proceedings had begun with allegations made against the respondent and Michael Davis, an unadmitted person. The substantive hearing against the respondent had been adjourned. The proceedings against Mr Davis were concluded on 16 and 17 May 2017, when a section 43 order was made against him. See tinyurl.com/yaoq7s6z.)

The respondent had facilitated, permitted or acquiesced in personal injury claims being intimated and pursued in circumstances where the purported client(s): a) had not returned signed client retainers, signed conditional fee agreements or any other written confirmation of instructions stating they wished the firm to act on their behalf; and/or b) had notified the firm they did not wish to pursue a personal injury claim, in breach of principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011.

He had permitted, facilitated or acquiesced in inaccurate and misleading representations being made to third-party insurers in breach of principles 2 and 6.

He had paid prohibited referral fees in a manner which contravened section 56 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 in breach of principles 2 and 6, and had failed to achieve outcome 9.8 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.

He had failed to produce to the SRA upon request, records and management information to demonstrate that payments made to an introducer(s) were not prohibited referral fees in breach of principles 6 and 7.

He had failed to ensure that agreements with introducers were in writing in breach of principle 6, and had failed to achieve outcome 9.7.

He had failed to inform clients of any financial or other interest which an introducer(s) had in referring them to his firm in breach of principles 2, 3, 4 and 6, and had failed to achieve outcome 9.4.

He had failed to ensure that employees were properly supervised and trained, in breach of principles 5 and 8, and had failed to achieve outcomes 7.6 and 7.8.

He had paid money which was not client money into client bank account in breach of rule 14.2 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011.

He had intimated a claim for costs to clients which he knew, or ought to have known, he could not justify, in the alternative he had permitted, facilitated or acquiesced in such claims being intimated, in breach of principles 2, 4, 5 and 6.

He had failed to ensure that advice to clients was provided as to the risks and benefits involved in pursuing a claim(s), and their potential costs liability, in breach of principles 2, 4, 5, and 6.  

He had failed to comply with a decision of the Legal Ombudsman that the firm should pay a client, DC, £8,202.70, in breach of principles 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

The respondent had been the sole principal of the firm and was therefore responsible for how it operated. He had not deliberately committed acts of misconduct, but they had occurred when he was developing the business.

His conduct was such as would damage the reputation of the profession. He had not properly demonstrated that he understood the gravity of his misconduct.

Nothing less than a period of suspension would be sufficient. The appropriate period was three years. However the respondent had, in effect, been suspended since May 2017 as a result of the intervention into the firm. The suspension would thus be reduced to two-and-a-half years from the date of the hearing. At the end of that period he should be subject to conditions for an indefinite period. He was ordered to pay costs of £50,000.