• Application 11513-2016
• Admitted 1999
• Hearing 16, 17 January 2017
• Reasons 25 January 2017
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be suspended from practice for nine months from 17 January 2017.
While in practice as a principal at Forster Dean Ltd, the respondent had caused or allowed the retention in the firm’s office bank account of monies received in respect of unpaid disbursements for periods in excess of the time limits prescribed by rule 19 of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998 (up to 5 October 2011) and rule 17.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 (after 6 October 2011). In doing so, he had breached rule 1.02, 1.04, 1.05 and 1.06 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007, and principles 2, 4, 5, 6 and 10 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, and had failed to achieve outcomes 1.1 and 1.2 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2011.
He had failed to remedy promptly on discovery breaches of the 1998 rules in breach of rule 7 thereof, and in breach of rule 7 of the 2011 rules and principle 7.
Having been made aware that the firm’s treatment of unpaid professional disbursements was in breach of the relevant accounts rules, he had caused or allowed the firm to revert to such practices in around May 2012 and in so doing had breached principles 2, 6 and 8.
He had failed to run the firm effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles, in that he had failed to ensure that the firm had appropriate systems in place to identify, prevent and rectify the breaches of the 1998 and 2011 rules identified above, and in doing so had, between 1 October 2010 and 5 October 2011, breached rule 5.01 of the 2007 code; and after 6 October 2011, breached principles 8 and 10 of the 2011 code and failed to achieve outcomes 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and 10.3 of the 2011 code.
The respondent was a principal of the firm and its CEO. He was trusted by his fellow directors to make appropriate decisions on the firm’s behalf but had failed to do so. He was fully responsible for the breaches that occurred at the firm. He was initially using the monies to fund the expansion of the firm, and latterly to support it during a period of financial difficulty. His conduct was aggravated by the concealment of his wrongdoing from his fellow directors.
While he was still at the firm, he had repaid some of the improperly used funds, and the full amount was repaid in June 2013.
The SDT took into account that the respondent’s former co-respondents had an agreed outcome, and had all been fined (the former sixth respondent had also been made subject to a section 43 order). However, the other solicitor respondents had not faced allegations of lack of integrity.
A fixed-term suspension was the appropriate and proportionate sanction.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £27,000.