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

Keith John O’Neill

Application 11991-2019

Admitted 1982

Hearing 2 December 2019

Reasons 13 December 2019

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

While in practice as the sole practitioner at Andrews McQueen, the respondent had:

(1) completed a professional indemnity insurance proposal form for Aon UK Ltd, failing to disclose material information, namely that he was the subject of an ongoing SRA investigation, in breach of principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011;

(2) transferred or allowed for the transfer of residual balances in the total sum of about £4,941.33 from client to office accounts, in purported satisfaction of bills which were in fact illegitimate bills, raised in order to reduce the balances on client ledgers to nil, in breach of rule 20.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 and principles 2 and 6;

(3) improperly retained funds for unpaid professional disbursements in the office bank account, in breach of rule 1.04 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007, rule 29.1 of the rules and principle 10;

(4) failed to properly maintain adequate accounting records such as to enable the determination of whether the firm held sufficient monies to discharge its liabilities to clients, thereby breaching rule 29.1 of the rules and principle 10, and failing to achieve outcome 7.2 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011; and

(5) failed to adequately investigate matters of concern raised by the applicant regarding a long history of office credit balances, thereby breaching rule 7.1 of the rules and principle 10, and failing to achieve outcome 7.3 of the 2011 code.

The parties invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with a statement of agreed facts and outcome.

The SDT was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the respondent’s admissions had been properly made.

The admitted failures, including to protect client monies, were of such seriousness that the proposed sanction of strike-off was appropriate and necessary. The respondent had denied that he acted dishonestly, and the SDT had accepted the admissions made on that basis in the light of the undertaking given that he would not seek re-admission to the roll.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £33,178, such order not to be enforced without the leave of the SDT.

George Babalola

Application 12013-2019

Admitted 1998

Hearing 13 December 2019

Reasons 15 January 2020

The SDT granted the applicant’s application for the determination of an indefinite suspension from practice imposed on him on 19 July 2005.

The SDT imposed the following conditions, namely that the applicant might not:

(i) practise as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised or recognised body; or as a freelance or consultant solicitor; or as a solicitor in an unregulated organisation;

(ii) for a period of two years from the date of the order be a partner or member of a limited liability partnership, legal disciplinary practice or alternative business structure or other authorised or recognised body, and following the expiry of that period any partnership or membership of an LLP, LDP or ABS or other authorised or recognised body to be approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority;

(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 unless he has been approved as a partner or member of an LLP, LDP or ABS, or other authorised or recognised body;

(v) be a signatory on any client account unless he has been approved as a partner or member of an LLP, LDP or ABS, or other authorised or recognised body;

(vi) other than as a solicitor at A2 Solicitors, work as a solicitor other than in employment approved by the SRA;

(vii) with liberty to either party to apply to vary the above conditions.

The present application was made subsequent to an application which had been refused by the SDT on 20 October 2017.

The SDT had before it evidence of the relevant training that the applicant had completed, evidence of his employment at a firm and evidence from his direct supervisor, together with numerous references since the previous tribunal had considered the position. Since 2017, the SRA had given permission for the applicant to work at A2 Solicitors and had varied the original conditions it had imposed to enable him to work as a police station representative. The applicant had clearly updated his legal knowledge in his specific area of practice and in respect of the SRA’s requirements generally.

The SDT was satisfied that the applicant in his current role, subject to conditions and supervision, was no longer a risk to the public.

The applicant was ordered to pay costs of £1,800.

Edward Fowler

Application 11998-2019

Admitted 1998

Hearing 10 December 2019

Reasons 23 December 2019

The SDT ordered that the respondent should pay a fine of £17,500, and further that he might not for a period of three years from the date of the agreed outcome:

(i) practise as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised or recognised body;

(ii) be a compliance officer for legal practice or a compliance officer for finance and administration; and

(iii) he should notify any employer or future employer (if that employer were an authorised body as defined in the Glossary to the SRA Handbook 2012) of the conditions on his practising certificates, with liberty to either party to apply to vary the conditions set out above.

While in practice as a solicitor at Scott Fowler, the respondent had acted on behalf of buyers in relation to a number of property development schemes, all or any of which were, or were at significant risk of being, collective investment schemes within the meaning of section 235 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, operated by persons unauthorised by the Financial Services Authority, as it then was, contrary to the general prohibition in section 19 of the FSMA, in breach of principle 6 of the SRA Principles 2011.

He had failed to advise his clients investing in the schemes, or cause them to be advised adequately or at all, in respect of the risks inherent in the schemes; the risks inherent in relying on NWIC to insure capital investments in the schemes against the risk of their failure; the schemes’ non-compliance, or the risk thereof, with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000; the import of any non-compliance by the schemes or their operators with the FSMA, thereby breaching principles 4, 5 and 6.

He had advised investor clients, or allowed them to be advised, that they could rely upon NWIC to insure investments in the schemes against the risk of their failure, in circumstances where due diligence into NWIC had not been carried out adequately or at all and the characteristics of NWIC provided no or no proper basis for such advice, thereby breaching principles 4, 5 and 6.

He had therefore failed to take reasonable steps to protect client money, in breach of principles 4, 5, 6 and 10.

He had acted recklessly in respect of each of the allegations above.

The parties invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with the agreed outcome.

The SDT was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the respondent’s admissions had been properly made.

A fine in the agreed sum of £17,500 was an appropriate and proportionate sanction, and the restrictions on practice for a period of three years that had been agreed were also appropriate.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £48,666.

Lorrells LLP

On 12 February 2020 the Adjudication Panel resolved to intervene into the remnants of the firm Lorrells LLP, formerly based at Suite 27 A&B, Thamesgate House, 31‑44 Victoria Avenue, Southend SS2 6BU. The firm closed on 15 September 2015.

The grounds for intervention were there had been a relevant insolvency event in relation to the firm (paragraph 32(1)(c) of schedule 2 to the Administration of Justice Act 1985).

It was necessary to exercise the powers of intervention to protect the interests of former clients of the firm (paragraph 32(1)(e) of schedule 2 to the Administration of Justice Act 1985).

No intervention agent has been appointed. The SRA will be making arrangements to take possession of the archived files.

 David A Ashworth

On 7 February 2020, the adjudication panel resolved to intervene into the above former sole practice of David Alan Ashworth, formerly based at 9 Hadendale, Cradley Heath, West Midlands B64 7JW.

Mr Ashworth died on 19 January 2020.

The ground for intervention was: it was necessary to intervene to protect the interests of clients or former clients of Mr Ashworth.

Mr Ashworth had closed his firm David A Ashworth, based at The Hayloft, Hexton Farm Barns, Arley, Bewdley, Worcestershire DY12 1SW on 30 September 2014.

No intervention agent has been appointed.

The files were uplifted by the SRA on 11 February 2020.