Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)
Hearing 16 October 2018
Reasons 4 December 2018
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be suspended from practice for two years from 16 October 2018, and further that she should pay a fine of £2,609. When the suspension expired, the respondent would be subject to the following conditions: that she might not (i) practise as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised or recognised body; (ii) be a partner or member of a limited liability partnership, legal disciplinary practice or alternative business structure or other authorised or recognised body; (iii) be a compliance officer for legal practice or a compliance officer for finance and administration; (iv) hold or deal with client money; (v) be a signatory on any client account; (vi) work as a solicitor other than in employment approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, with liberty to either party to apply to vary those conditions.
By charging search fees in conveyancing transactions greater than the amount of the disbursement incurred by the firm, and not sending those bills or other written notifications of the costs to the relevant clients or seeking their authority for payment of such bills, the respondent had breached principles 2, 4, 5, 6 and 10 of the SRA Principles 2011 and rules 1.2(c) and 17.2 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011.
The respondent had cleared balances on client accounts by issuing bills of costs and paying them from client funds without proper justification and without first sending those bills or other written notifications of the costs to the relevant clients or seeking their authority for payment of such bills, in breach of principles 2, 4, 5, 6 and 10 and rules 1.2(c) and 17.2 of the rules.
The respondent’s conduct was very serious. Clients had been deprived of sums that should rightfully have been repaid to them, and instead those funds had been used to try and benefit the respondent. The firm had arranged for the monies to be repaid to clients, but that was about a year later.
A fine would be an appropriate sanction, but would not be sufficient alone. She would also be suspended and thereafter subject to a restriction order.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £6,848.
Robert Leslie Perry
Hearings 24-25 September, 19 and 21 November 2018
Reasons 11 December 2018
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll. In breach of principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011, the respondent had accepted a gift or a loan from a client without telling them to get independent legal advice.
In breach of principles 2 and 6, the respondent had misled his employer as to the work he was doing on his own account. He had acted dishonestly.
In breach of rule 1.1 of the SRA Practice Framework Rules 2011, the respondent had worked for a client on his own account, without the authority to do so.
The respondent had worked for clients without the benefit of professional indemnity insurance, in breach of principles 5, 6 and 7 and rule 4.1 of the SRA Indemnity Insurance Rules 2011, and had thereby failed to achieve outcome 1.8.
The respondent’s motivation for his misconduct arose from a desire to hide the true situation from his employer. The misconduct was at the highest level and the only appropriate sanction was a strike-off.
There were no exceptional circumstances that would make such an order unjust in the present case. The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £11,000.
Hearings 6 July, 15 October 2018
Reasons 26 November 2018
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll. The respondent had misled a judge during a hearing to believe that she was a barrister, and had not corrected his misapprehension, in breach of principles 1, 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011. She had also failed to achieve outcome 5.1 of the SRA Conduct of Conduct 2011, and had acted dishonestly.
The respondent had sent a misleading email to a solicitor, saying that at the hearing she had been fresh to the case, in breach of principles 2 and 6. She had acted dishonestly.
The respondent had attempted to mislead the SRA by sending a set of attendance notes that she had drafted, but which, on the face of them, the junior fee-earner had drafted, and which recorded supervision by another member of staff which had not taken place, in breach of principles 2, 6 and 7. She had also failed to achieve outcome 10.6 of the code, and had acted dishonestly.
The respondent had a pre-disposition not to tell the truth: she would seek to blame others for errors and she would try to put a gloss on situations that caused her difficulty. She could not be trusted and was a risk to the public. Save in exceptional circumstances, a finding of dishonesty would lead to the solicitor being struck off the roll. There were no exceptional circumstances in the present case. She was ordered to pay costs of £4,500.
Howell Jones LLP
Hearing 14 November 2018
Reasons 3 December 2018
The SDT ordered that the respondent (a limited liability firm of solicitors) should pay a fine of £5,000. The respondent had acted for client A between 20 December 2013 and early November 2014, in circumstances where there was an own interest conflict and had therefore been in breach of outcome (3.4), and of principles 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011. The matter was dealt with by way of the agreed outcome procedure.
The respondent’s misconduct was clearly moderately serious, in that any situation in which a firm acted where there was an own client conflict was not a minor matter.
The respondent had not lacked integrity and indeed had taken a number of steps to try to resolve the matter to client A’s satisfaction. However, it had not ceased acting when it should have done and that had been fairly described as an error of judgement.
Having reviewed all the material carefully, the SDT was satisfied that a fine in the level 2 range in the indicative fine bands was an appropriate sanction in all the circumstances. The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £26,850.