• Application 11695-2017
  • Hearing 20-21 February, 14 March 2018
  • Reasons 13 April 2018

The SDT ordered that the first respondent (admitted 2005) and the second respondent (admitted 2013) should each pay a fine of £5,000; and that the third respondent (a recognised body) should pay a fine of £2,000.

The respondents had paid prohibited referral fees in contravention of section 56 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to a minimum value of £2,000, thereby breaching principles 6 and 7 of the SRA Principles 2011 and failing to achieve outcome 9.8 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.

They had allowed their decision on which medical agency to use in personal injury cases to be directly influenced by the introducer who had referred the work to them, thereby breaching principles 3, 4, 5 and 6 and failing to achieve outcome 9.2 of the 2011 code.

They had failed to provide their clients with accurate information regarding the financial or other interests which the introducers had in referring clients to the third respondent, thereby breaching principles 4, 5 and 6 and failing to achieve outcomes 9.2, 9.3 and 9.4 of the 2011 code.

The first respondent’s conduct had not been deliberate and his personal motivation had been to grow his business and make a profit. He had relied on others to ensure the correct procedures were followed, but he was the most senior solicitor in the practice and had control of the circumstances that had given rise to the breaches.

There was no issue in the case relating to public protection which would require any interference with the first respondent’s ability to practise. A fine was a sufficient sanction, and a level 2 fine of £7,500 was appropriate in relation to him. However, taking into account the strong mitigating factors and the low level of his culpability and harm caused, the fine was reduced to £5,000.

The second respondent’s level of culpability was higher than the first respondent’s despite the fact that she was less experienced. She had not acted intentionally in allowing the payment of prohibited referral fees, or failing to ensure the firm was not directly influenced by referrers or failing to ensure that clients had been provided with accurate information regarding the financial interests of those referrers.

Again, there was no issue relating to public protection which would require any interference with the second respondent’s ability to practise. A level 2 fine was appropriate in relation to the second respondent. As she was more culpable than the first respondent a fine of £5,000 was appropriate.

The fine of £5,000 that had been imposed on the first respondent would also be an appropriate sanction for the third respondent. However, the third respondent was effectively the first respondent as he was the 100% shareholder and now sole director of the third respondent. Accordingly any fine imposed on the third respondent would be payable solely by the first respondent in addition to the fine imposed on him.

There had been a decrease in the work and income of the third respondent, and taking into account its declining financial position the fine would be reduced to £2,000.

The first and third respondents were each ordered to pay costs of £4,000; the second respondent was ordered to pay costs of £16,000.