An equity partner at a leading law firm who recreated documents he thought had been sent, but passed them off as copies of the originals, has been fined £50,000.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) accepted that Stephen Evans-Jones “appeared to genuinely believe that he was entitled to ‘recreate’ these documents in the way he did” – even though this belief was “bizarre and plainly wrong”.
It went on: “All solicitors should know that they must be scrupulously accurate and that documents should not be ‘recreated’, that is to say created and backdated, without being clearly identified as such.”
Mr Evans-Jones, who qualified in 2002, was an equity partner in the Manchester office of Fieldfisher at the time.
The firm reported him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in July 2019 and in March 2020 the solicitor agreed to go on garden leave before resigning in November. He is now a director of Flahive Law.
The allegations arose out of an instruction from a specialist mortgage lender client to pursue possession proceedings in relation to two residential properties.
In preparing the particulars of claims in May 2018, the litigator handling the case needed to append copies of the formal demands for repayment of the loans (‘FD letters’) sent on 19 February 2018 and letters before action sent on 1 March 2018, both of which Mr Evans-Jones had handled.
But rather than explaining that he could not locate the original versions, he created copies and backdated them.
The SDT said a solicitor in this situation should “explain that copies were not available, or make it plain on the face of the ‘recreated’ document that it was not a copy of the original”.
There was, it accepted, “a meaningful and substantial distinction” between creating a document which had existed, as it had existed, and creating “something entirely new which gave the impression that something had previously existed when this was not in fact the case”.
But equally, it was “inconceivable” that Mr Evans-Jones was not aware that those who saw the ‘recreated’ documents would assume they were true copies of the originals
In doing this and then letting the letters be served with the particulars of claim, he damaged public trust and lacked integrity, the SDT decided.
Mr Evans-Jones had denied lacking integrity but the tribunal said his genuine belief that he was entitled to recreate the letters was not an “adequate answer” to the allegation.
“The tribunal found [him] to be a somewhat combative witness whose defence of the allegations put to him often took the form of aggression.
“He spoke repeatedly, and the tribunal accepted genuinely, about the professional pressures on him at the time and how routinely busy he was.
“He was a successful solicitor and produced a range of extremely impressive testimonials. He appeared to the tribunal to be somewhat dismissive of the seriousness of the allegations at times.”
Mr Evans-Jones also signed a witness statement supported by a statement of truth in which he said he could recall signing and despatching the FD letters – even though it turned out he had actually been on holiday at the time.
He admitted damaging public trust but again denied lacking integrity, which on this occasion the SDT accepted.
He had been “careless” in failing to ensure his statement was accurate. “However, the tribunal considered that the fact that the statement was prepared and signed a year after the letters were created and appended to the particulars of claim was significant, taking into account the burden of proof which was on the [SRA].”
Character references spoke of the solicitor’s professionalism and integrity, it said, and he had an otherwise unblemished regulatory record.
“There was no propensity for the making of inaccurate statements. The tribunal also noted that the statement was prepared for him and that he approved, and returned, it very promptly.
“The tribunal accepted [his] evidence about the volume of work and emails he was routinely handling at the time. This did not excuse a failure to ensure the statement was wholly accurate, but the tribunal accepted it was part of the factual matrix in which that failure occurred.”
Though he should have checked his diary, the SDT said he could not “inadvertently act without integrity”.
His actions were also not dishonest: “The tribunal considered that ordinary decent people would be deeply unimpressed with [Mr Evans-Jones’s] actions… However, the tribunal did not consider that the conduct would be characterised as dishonest.”
The SDT decided that the misconduct was nonetheless “very serious” and imposed a fine of £50,000, as well as ordering Mr Evans-Jones to pay costs of £11,500.