Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)
Hearing 17 March 2020
Reasons 7 April 2020
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.
The respondent had failed to report the firm’s serious financial difficulties to the SRA, thereby breaching principle 8 of the SRA Principles 2011 and failing to achieve outcome 10.3 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2011.
He had breached rule 24.2(b) of the SRA Authorisation Rules 2011 by failing to make appropriate applications and arrangements to become a recognised sole practitioner when the firm’s salaried partner left the firm.
He had made an improper withdrawal from the firm’s client account to C, in breach of rule 20.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 and principle 6.
He had failed effectively to manage and supervise the firm’s bookkeepers, in breach of principle 8.
He had failed to send bills to clients in relation to residual balances, in breach of rule 17.2 of the Accounts Rules and principle 10.
He had caused or permitted unauthorised transfers of money totalling £8,783.67 into the firm’s office account, in breach of rule 20.1 of the Accounts Rules and principles 6 and 10.
He had been convicted of one count of theft and two counts of money laundering, thereby breaching principles 2 and 5 of the SRA Principles 2019.
The parties applied to the SDT to approve an agreed outcome to the proceedings. The SDT was satisfied, on the basis of the admissions and the agreed facts presented, that the admitted allegations had been proved to the requisite standard.
The respondent’s misconduct was extremely serious. As well as numerous breaches of the SRA Principles 2011 and 2019, he had been convicted of dishonesty offences.
He could not be trusted with client funds and the public needed to be protected from him. The appropriate sanction was to strike the respondent off the roll, and the SDT therefore determined that the case could be concluded on the basis of the statement of agreed facts and proposed outcome.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £14,074.
Michael James Paul Wilson, Sean James Rogers and Victoria Kinsella
Hearing 24-27 February 2020
Reasons 7 April 2020
The SDT ordered that the first respondent (admitted 2000) and the second respondent (admitted 2008) should each pay a fine of £10,000.
The SDT further ordered that as from 27 February 2020, except in accordance with Law Society permission: (i) no solicitor should employ or remunerate the third respondent in connection with his practice as a solicitor; (ii) no employee of a solicitor should employ or remunerate the third respondent in connection with the solicitor’s practice; (iii) no recognised body should employ or remunerate the third respondent; (iv) no manager or employee of a recognised body should employ or remunerate the third respondent in connection with the business of that body; (v) no recognised body or manager or employee of such a body should permit the third respondent to be a manager of the body; and (vi) no recognised body or manager or employee of such a body should permit the third respondent to have an interest in the body.
The first and second respondents, while practising as directors at High Street Solicitors Limited, had failed to ensure compliance with the Solicitors Accounts Rules 2011, in that monies relating to unpaid professional disbursements and after-the-event insurance premiums, including client monies, were improperly held to the firm’s office account, contrary to rule 14.1, thereby breaching rule 6.1 and principles 6, 7, 8 and 10 of the SRA Principles 2011, and failing to achieve outcomes 7.2 and 7.3 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.
The third respondent, while employed as the firm’s compliance officer for finance and administration, had been guilty of conduct of such a nature that in the opinion of the SRA it would be undesirable for her to be involved in a legal practice, in that she had failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the firm’s regulatory obligations under the rules; in that monies relating to unpaid professional disbursements and ATE insurance premiums, including client monies, were improperly held to the firm’s office account, contrary to rule 14.1, in breach of her obligations under rule 8.5(e) of the SRA Authorisation Rules 2011, and principles 6, 7, 8 and 10.
She had failed as soon as reasonably practicable to report to the SRA a material failure to comply with the rules, inasmuch as she was aware that monies relating to unpaid professional disbursements and ATE insurance premiums, including client monies, were improperly held to the firm’s office account, contrary to rule 14.1 of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 2011, in breach of her obligations under rule 8.5(e) of the Authorisation Rules, and principles 7 and 8.
The first and second respondents had not been motivated to commit misconduct; their misconduct had arisen as a result of their failings. It was a single episode in the otherwise unblemished careers of the first and second respondents.
They had demonstrated genuine insight and had cooperated in full with the investigation.
A financial penalty of £10,000 each was an appropriate and proportionate sanction.
The third respondent had been aware of the issues and had done nothing to rectify or prevent them. Her failure as the firm’s COFA was serious: a section 43 order was necessary and proportionate.
A costs order of £20,000 was made, to be shared in equal amount by the three respondents.