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

William Herbert Black

Application 12042-2019

Admitted 1981

Hearing 5 February 2020

Reasons 28 February 2020

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

On 7 November 2018, the respondent was convicted at the magistrates’ court of sexual assault, contrary to section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and sentenced to a community order comprising a rehabilitation activity requirement of up to 25 days, an unpaid work requirement of 100 hours within 12 months, and the payment of compensation of £100, a victim surcharge of £85 and costs of £85. He was also ordered to register with the police in accordance with the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for a period of five years. The respondent’s conduct was in breach of principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011.

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 SDT was satisfied that the respondent’s admissions had been properly made.

The respondent’s conviction was as a result of his inappropriate behaviour with a minor. The age of the victim was a substantial aggravating factor of his misconduct. Public confidence in the profession and the reputation of the profession required no lesser sanction than that the respondent be removed from the roll.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £1,275.

Stephen Pearson

Application 12000-2019

Admitted 1992

Hearing 7-8 January 2020

Reasons 26 February 2020

The SDT ordered that the respondent should pay a fine of £2,500.

While in practice as a sole practitioner at Pearsons and as a partner at Turner Pearsons Solicitors, the respondent had facilitated a transaction which bore the hallmarks of mortgage fraud and had thereby acted in breach of basic principles (a) (but not extending to lack of integrity), (c), (d) and (e) of rule 1.01 of the Solicitors Practice Rules 1990. His conduct was reckless and manifestly incompetent.  

The respondent had had no deliberate motivation for what had occurred; he had made errors.

A loan had been obtained in the amount of £90,000 against the property. The respondent had been slow to deal with post-completion matters and as a result of his actions the lender had made an unsecured loan to company B in respect of a property registered to company A. The charge had not been registered with Companies House. By the time the error came to light, company A was in liquidation. There was a degree of resulting harm to the reputation of the legal profession in a case where a solicitor had allowed a file to get into serious disarray.

It was a single episode in an otherwise unblemished career and the respondent had shown genuine insight into the issues.

A fine was merited. The conduct was moderately serious including recklessness and manifest incompetence, albeit relating only to one property, and was therefore at the lower end of indicative fine band level 2.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £20,000.

Michael Shrimpton

Application 12014-2019

Hearing 4-5 February 2020

Reasons 20 March 2020

The SDT refused the applicant’s application for review of a section 43 order made by a chief adjudicator on 16 September 2019, with a view to that order being revoked, quashed or varied.

The applicant had been convicted of an offence, contrary to section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 (the images conviction). He had subsequently been convicted on indictment of two counts of communicating false information with intent, contrary to section 51 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (the bomb hoax conviction).

The chief adjudicator, in considering the application for a section 43 order, had found that the applicant’s conduct was serious and involved dishonesty. He had two criminal convictions and was sent to prison for 12 months for the bomb hoax offence. The images offence was of a sexual nature. He had shown no insight or remorse. There was a risk to the public because the applicant denied he committed both offences.

The chief adjudicator noted that the nature of the applicant’s work meant that he represented vulnerable adults at immigration tribunals and could represent unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. She considered that his conduct fundamentally undermined the trust and confidence that the public placed in, and were entitled to expect from, those involved in the provision of legal services.

The SDT noted that the imposition of a section 43 order was a regulatory control. It did not prevent the applicant from working or remove his ability to earn a livelihood. It required that any prospective employer had appropriate systems in place to militate against any risks posed and that the applicant would be properly supervised.

The SDT had considered each of the decisions made by the chief adjudicator. It had found that none of the decisions made were wrong or unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity. Accordingly, it found no reason to interfere with the chief adjudicator’s decision.

The applicant was ordered to pay costs of £8,160.

Michael Usher 

Application 12022-2019

Admitted 2010

Hearing 25-26 February 2020

Reasons 23 March 2020

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

While in practice as a member of Ushers Solicitors LLP, the respondent had failed to notify the SRA that the firm had entered into the extended indemnity period (as defined by the Solicitors Indemnity Insurance Rules 2013 (SIIR)) on 1 April 2017 at any time on or after 5 April 2017, thereby breaching principle 7 of the SRA Principles 2011 and rule 17.3(a) of the SRA Indemnity Insurance Rules 2011.

He had failed to notify the SRA that the firm had entered into the cessation period (CP) (as defined by the SIIR) on 1 May 2017 at any time on or after 5 May 2017, thereby breaching principle 7 and rule 17.3(b) of the SIIR.

While in the CP, the firm had accepted instructions from CO, thereby breaching rule 5.2 of the SIIR.

Although the firm had entered into the CP on 1 May 2017, and had not subsequently obtained professional indemnity insurance incepting on or before 31 March 2017, the respondent had failed to ensure that it had ceased to practise on or before 30 June 2017 onwards, thereby breaching principles 4, 5, 6 and 8, rules 4.2(c) and 5(1) of the SIIR, and failing to achieve outcome O(1.8) of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.

He had made statements in correspondence with an employee of the SRA which he knew, or should have appreciated, were apt to mislead them into believing that the firm maintained professional indemnity insurance when he knew that was not the case, thereby breaching principles 2, 6 and 7. He had acted dishonestly.

He had made statements in response to questions contained within a proposal for PII which were untrue and which he knew, or should have known, to be untrue, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6 and failing to achieve outcome O(11.1) of the code. He had acted dishonestly.

There was no evidence of harm caused to any individual clients, but there was significant potential for substantial harm to have been caused to those clients who did not have the benefit of protection to which they were entitled. The damage to the reputation of the profession was very substantial.

The only appropriate sanction was a strike-off. There had been a clear breach of the SIIR, which had exposed clients to significant risk and that had been compounded by dishonest attempts to conceal the fact. There were no exceptional circumstances that would make a strike-off unjust.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £8,000.

Timothy Peter Ackrel

Application 12009-2019

Admitted 2004

Hearing 11-12 February 2020

Reasons 9 March 2020

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

While in practice as an in-house solicitor at Company E, Company A and Company D and while acting on behalf of Company E, Company A and Company D in real estate development schemes, the respondent had:

l facilitated payments of investor funds to third

parties without apparent justification, in breach of principles 2, 3 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011, and had thereby acted dishonestly;

  • continued to act in circumstances where he knew or ought to have known that, as a result of said payments, the schemes were unsustainable and that further incoming investments were thereby put at risk, in breach of principles 2, 3 and 6, and had thereby acted  dishonestly;
  • drafted, executed and registered legal charges against development sites in circumstances where he could not have had any reasonable belief in the validity of the liabilities said by the charges to have been outstanding, in breach of principles 2, 3 and 6, and had thereby acted  dishonestly;
  • facilitated improper money movements with indicators of potential money laundering, breaching principles 2, 3, 6 and 7 and failing to achieve outcome 7.5 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, and had thereby acted  dishonestly;
  • in all the circumstances acted in schemes which bore the hallmarks of dubious transactions, in breach of principles 2, 3 and 6, and had thereby acted dishonestly.

The respondent’s motivation was at least partly financial gain. Very significant harm had been caused. The schemes had resulted in financial losses worth millions of pounds. The creation of meritless legal charges had required the intervention of the liquidator.

The misconduct was at the highest level and the only appropriate sanction was a strike-off. There was nothing that came close to justifying a lesser sanction.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £41,325.

Gurney Harden Solicitors Ltd

On 3 April 2020, the Adjudication Panel resolved to intervene into the remnants of the firm Gurney Harden Solicitors Limited, of 108 High Street, Ashford, Kent TN24 8SD. The firm also traded from five branch offices, in Chatham, Eastbourne, Hastings, Havant and Worthing. The firm closed on 13 December 2019 after entering administration.

The ground of intervention was: it was necessary to exercise the powers of intervention to protect the interests of clients or former clients or potential clients of the firm (paragraph 32(1)(e) of schedule 2 to the Administration of Justice Act 1985 (as amended)).

John Owen of Gordons LLP, 1 New Augustus Street, Bradford BD1 5LL; tel: 0113 227 2102; email: intervention@gordonsllp.com; has been appointed to act as the Society’s agent.