Commercial property solicitor’s “outrageous failure” leads to strike-off

SDT: Solicitor’s motivation not readily discernable

A solicitor whose conduct of several property transactions has triggered multi-million-pound negligence claims against his former firm has now been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said there had been an “outrageous failure” on the part of Jonathan Thomas Gorman, who was an assistant and head of commercial property at Liverpool firm EAD Solicitors.

EAD is in administration – the business was bought in September 2018 by Simpson Millar – but is facing claims of at least £15m, according to a High Court ruling in September.

Many of the court claims and matters before the tribunal involved a man the SDT called ‘RW’, identified as Robert Ware by the courts.

Mr Ware is a property developer and a former solicitor; he appeared before the SDT in 2012 in respect of conveyancing irregularities. He was fined £2,000 and undertook to remove himself from the roll.

Mr Gorman, who qualified in 2011, worked at EAD from January 2016 until he was dismissed for gross misconduct 18 months later.

The SDT found that in several matters he failed to register his clients’ interests with the Land Registry in property they had bought, and/or to ensure the correct amount of stamp duty land tax was paid.

In May, the High Court said it was difficult to imagine a “more obvious breach of duty” by a conveyancing solicitor than failing to register its new owner.

The SDT found Mr Gorman responsible for other failures. In one case, he did not register a leasehold interest in a property and then did not advise the subsequent purchasers of the property about its existence.

In another, he failed to advise his client that the intended vendor did not own the property, or that a ‘back-to-back’ purchase was required.

In a third matter, he purported to complete his client’s purchase of the property in circumstances where a winding-up petition had been issued against the owner company, the effect of which was that it was not possible to register his client’s interest.

The SDT found that Mr Gorman also failed to comply with undertakings to merge his seller client’s freehold title to a development with leasehold titles relating to individual flats at a property.

In addition, he used EAD’s client account as a banking facility, receiving and making payments when there was no underlying transaction.

He was found in breach of multiple SRA principles and to have been dishonest.

The SDT said Mr Gorman had been “well versed in high-value property transactions” and as head of the firm’s commercial property department “must have known that he had failed properly to advise his clients or protect their interests”.

Mr Gorman did not engage with the tribunal, which said his motivation was “not readily discernible from the evidence”.

The SDT continued: “It was clear that that there was a close and complicit relationship with RW who featured in many of the transactions.

“It was noted that both [Mr Gorman] and RW had worked in the same firm in Liverpool and that there had been some cross-over in the years when they were at that firm together.

“The tribunal inferred that the benefit derived by [Mr Gorman] was continued business with RW and the revenue which this generated for [him] and the firm.”

The extent of the harm was “spread across multiple clients”, it said: “This had been outrageous failure on [Mr Gorman’s] part.”

The SDT struck him off and ordered him to pay costs of £40,000.

According to His Honour Judge Halliwell in September, Mr Gorman and Mr Ware were investigated by the police but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute.

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