SDT strikes off solicitor who admitted he should never have qualified

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10 March 2016


SDT

SDT: rejected drug side effects claim

A solicitor who admitted he should never have qualified in the first place has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for misusing client money.

Separately, the tribunal also struck off a former sole practitioner who is serving four years in prison for fraud after stealing over £620,000 from client account. He claimed his behaviour was influenced by the side effects of medication.

The first solicitor, Stephen Allen Lawson, admitted that when one of two partners at the firm Hunton and Garget in Richmond, North Yorkshire, he had made unauthorised withdrawals from client account, written out misleading cheque stubs, and submitted false accounts.

Three improper withdrawals of £564, £3,850 and £2,526 between July 2007 and July 2008 were admitted. The first withdrawal related to a gift left in a will owing from an estate that had already been fully distributed by a fee-earner who had left the firm. Mr Lawson paid out the gift from another client’s ledger.

In mitigation, his counsel told the tribunal he had found work as a junior school teacher and “now recognised that he probably ought never to have been a solicitor in private practice at all and stated he had no wish to remain on the roll”.

Mr Lawson admitted he had breached the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007 and the SRA Principles 2011. Citing his state of the mind at the time, he claimed he had required serious medical treatment.

He also produced evidence which showed that he suffered from a medical condition which would deteriorate if interviewed. The Solicitors Regulation Authority and Mr Lawson agreed that the dishonesty allegations should lie on the file, as it would not be in the public interest or proportionate to pursue the allegations in light of the his admissions and ill health.

The SDT concurred and struck off Mr Lawson, ordering that he pay agreed costs of £23,000.

Andrew John Taylor was sent to prison in March 2015 at Manchester Crown Court, after being convicted of 13 counts of fraud by abuse of position. The sentencing judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, noted that he had stolen about £624,000 from clients who were vulnerable due to their elderly age or dementia. In many cases Mr Taylor had held a power of attorney for them.

The tribunal recorded the judge saying that he had “frittered away” the money on “various absurd extravagances”. But he accepted that Mr Taylor’s behaviour was out of character and it was “highly likely that his compulsive behaviour and extravagance was due to the drugs that he was receiving [for a medical condition].”

However, the tribunal was “satisfied that in light of the conviction, he had failed to uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice. He had grossly breached his position of trust and had thereby failed to act with integrity”.

Further, the SDT agreed with Openshaw J that the effects of the respondent’s medication “provided no real mitigation”. It added that it was a “case of unsophisticated fraud” involving “a gross abuse of his position as a solicitor… The effect of the respondent’s medication on him did not amount to exceptional circumstances in this case”.

The tribunal ordered that Mr Taylor be struck off and pay costs of £2,843.

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