Richard Barnett, former chair of the Law Society’s land law and conveyancing committee, has told Legal Futures that he is “very surprised” at the decision by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) earlier this week that he should be struck off.
Mr Barnett, a Law Society council member, also said he was considering an appeal.
The allegations against the former senior partner of Barnetts, based in Southport, centred on his involvement with the collapsed Axiom Legal Financing Fund.
The SDT found that 11 allegations against him were proved. Among them was that he accepted investment money when it was improper, paid investment money into office account and “misappropriated over £600,000 of investment money”.
Mr Barnett was also found to have acted in a conflict of interest, failed to act in his client’s best interests, provided false information on his indemnity insurance renewal form and given misleading information and/or failed to co-operate with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
He was struck off the roll and ordered to make an interim costs payment of £115,000 by the end of October.
The SDT found that Anthony Swift, a former equity partner at Barnetts, had accepted investment money when it was improper, paid the money into office account, acted where there was a conflict of interest and failed to act in his client’s best interests.
Mr Swift was suspended from practice for six months and ordered to make an interim costs payment of £20,000 within 42 days.
The SDT’s written ruling is expected in around a month’s time.
Speaking to Legal Futures about the SDT hearing last autumn, Mr Barnett blamed the SRA for the collapse of his firm.
He described how the firm, which specialised in volume conveyancing and litigation, went into administration in December 2013, after what he claimed was a threat from the SRA to make it the subject of an intervention.
Mr Barnett said this week that his case “could raise serious issues for the profession”. He added: “I have been flooded with really good messages from solicitors, colleagues and former clients”.
Timothy Schools, a solicitor closely linked to Axiom, was struck off by the SDT in September last year. However, the case was not related to events at Axiom, but to his work at ATM Solicitors in Preston.
The SDT found 10 allegations brought by the SRA against Mr Schools, from Sedbergh, Cumbria, were proved.
The allegations included failing to act with integrity, acting where there was a conflict of interest and acting in a manner which led to his independence and that of the law firm being compromised.