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

Harina Zoey Panesar-Jagdev

Application 12074-2020

Admitted 2016

Hearing 8 December 2020

Reasons 14 December 2020

The SDT ordered that the respondent should be suspended from practice as a solicitor for a period of six months, from 8 December 2020.

The respondent had created a copy of an original email, which she had falsified by deleting the name of an addressee, and had then forwarded to her client, purporting it to be a true copy of the original document, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6. She had acted dishonestly.

The parties had invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with a statement of agreed facts and outcome. However, while the matter had been presented for consideration on the papers, the SDT’s preliminary view was that a case in which dishonesty had been admitted, and for which the proposed sanction was a suspension of six months, merited the attendance of the parties.

Allegations involving dishonesty were always to be considered among the most serious with which the SDT dealt. However, the facts of individual cases would, on rare occasions, result in a sanction short of strike-off should exceptional circumstances be found, as set out in SRA v Sharma [2010] EWHC 2022 (Admin).

In evaluating whether there were exceptional circumstances justifying a lesser sanction in the present case, the SDT noted that the respondent had an otherwise unblemished record; that she had been retained by the firm she had worked for at the time of the incident; and that she had since obtained work with another firm. Both firms were aware of the allegations the respondent had faced.

It was accepted that the case had involved a fleeting or momentary lapse of judgement, which had lasted a very brief period of time before discovery and that the respondent had promptly self-reported the incident.

Further, the respondent had not benefited from her actions and there had been no adverse effect on the client (who was not deceived by her actions) or the client’s conveyancing transaction.

The case was a paradigm example of a ‘moment of madness’: there were exceptional circumstances, such that it fell into the small residual category of cases for which strike-off from the roll would be disproportionate. Suspension for six months was the appropriate sanction.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £1,680.

Samuel Maurice Charkham

Application 12088-2020

Admitted 1977

Hearing 19-22 October 2020

Reasons 30 November 2020

The SDT ordered the respondent to pay a fine of £30,000.

While in practice as a partner at Simkins LLP the respondent had, at a social event organised by the firm and attended by employees of the firm, told a joke containing a racially abusive term, thereby breaching principles 2, 6 and 9 of the SRA Principles 2011. That conduct was racially motivated.

He had, while in the firm’s office, acted towards person A in a manner that was inappropriate and unwanted in that he had moved towards person A wearing a white A4 envelope on his head and used words to the effect of ‘I’ve joined the Ku Klux Klan’ in circumstances thereby breaching principles 2, 6 and 9. That conduct was racially motivated.

While in the firm’s offices, he had touched person A’s bottom on more than one occasion, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6. That conduct was sexually motivated.

He had touched person B’s backside, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011.

The respondent was in a position of significant seniority and responsibility and the reputation of the profession had inevitably been severely damaged by the misconduct of a solicitor in such a role.

He had shown no particular insight and had not sought seriously to address his shortcomings with regard to his treatment of women and those from another racial background to his own in an office environment.

The respondent did not pose a risk to the public, nor was there a significant risk to colleagues and others of any repetition of the behaviour complained of. The SDT was satisfied that the present proceedings and findings were such that the respondent was unlikely to behave in the same manner in the future.

The seriousness of the misconduct was such that the appropriate sanction was a financial penalty. It was further recommended that the respondent should undertake training in equality, diversity and inclusion, to satisfy the applicant that he understand his obligations and the requirements in that respect.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £21,000.

David Sewell

Application 12087-2020

Admitted 1976

Hearing 4 December 2020

Reasons 23 December 2020

The SDT ordered the respondent to pay a fine of £8,000.

While in practice at Oliver & Co Solicitors between about November 2014 and November 2016, the respondent had failed adequately to advise his clients investing in three property development schemes about the high risks inherent in the schemes and so breached principles 4, 5 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011, and failed to achieve outcome 1.5 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.

The parties had invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with a statement of agreed facts and outcome, submitting that the outcome proposed was consistent with the SDT’s Guidance Note on Sanctions.

The SDT had reviewed all the material before it and was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the respondent’s admissions had been properly made.

The respondent should have provided adequate advice to his clients as to the risks of investing in off-plan properties, which were inherently risky investments, so his clients could reach informed decisions. By failing to provide such advice, and relying instead upon clients to seek out other less well-qualified professionals, the respondent had failed to provide a proper standard of service to his clients who might reasonably have expected that he, as their solicitor, would be a first line of defence against unduly risky transactions. The respondent’s failure to give proper advice had placed client funds at risk.

However, weighing up the relevant factors in the case, the SDT agreed that the appropriate sanction for the respondent’s misconduct was a fine. In all the circumstances, the proposed sanction of a fine of £8,000 was acceptable, and the SDT agreed to approve the outcome in the terms proposed.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £7,500.

Gillian Margaret Walker

Application 12095-2020

Hearing 15-17 December 2020

Reasons 6 January 2021

The SDT ordered that, as from 17 December 2020, except in accordance with Law Society permission, (i) no solicitor should employ or remunerate the respondent in connection with his practice as a solicitor; (ii) no employee of a solicitor should employ or remunerate her in connection with the solicitor’s practice; (iii) no recognised body should employ or remunerate her; (iv) no manager or employee of a recognised body should employ or remunerate her in connection with the business of that body; (v) no recognised body or manager or employee of such a body should permit her to be a manager of the body; and (vi) no recognised body or manager or employee of such a body should permit her to have an interest in the body.

The respondent, who was not a solicitor, 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, while employed or remunerated at Opes Law Limited as a fee-earner and later as a director, and while acting as a director, she had failed to ensure that her position as a manager had been approved by the SRA, thereby breaching rules 8.1 and 8.6 of the SRA Authorisation Rules 2011, and principle 7 of the SRA Principles 2011.

While owning the share capital of the firm, she had failed to ensure that her position as an owner had been approved by the SRA, thereby breaching rules 8.1 and 8.6 of the Authorisation Rules, and principle 7.

She had written a letter to a potential witness for a defendant tour company, which had impliedly threatened to expose the witness to allegations of benefit fraud if she gave evidence in accordance with her statement, thereby breaching principles 1, 2 and 6.

She had sent an email to her client, GW, enabling and/or encouraging him to report a potential witness to the benefit fraud helpline in order to discourage her from giving evidence for a defendant tour company, thereby breaching principles 1, 2 and 6.

She had caused or allowed signed parental indemnity forms to be sent to solicitors acting for company J’s insurers which were misleading in that they purported to accept settlement where no agreement had been reached between the parties, thereby breaching principles 5 and 8.

She had failed properly to inform the firm’s clients of the details of its fee-sharing arrangements, thereby failing to achieve one or more of outcomes 9.4 and 9.5 of the SRA Code of Conduct, and breaching principle 5.

Given all the circumstances and the nature of the respondent’s misconduct, it was appropriate and proportionate to make her subject to an order under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £15,000.