A solicitor who lied to a lender, a client, his law firm and the Land Registry to cover up the lack of progress made on his clients’ matters has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) rejected the argument of Gary James Burns that he was unaware the statements he made were false because he had delegated various tasks to support staff, like his secretary.
It said: “[Mr Burns] set out in some considerable detail his views about the shortcomings and lack of competence of the administrative and secretarial support he received.
“The tribunal did not consider it to be credible that, given such strongly held convictions, [he] would rely to such an extent on the same individual for tasks of such importance.”
In any case, the evidence did not support his claims that he had delegated tasks and then made no effort to monitor or check the position at any stage.
The tribunal added that the “persuasiveness” of Mr Burns’ account of what happened was “undermined by his failure to submit to cross-examination”.
The SDT said Mr Burns, based at Nalders in Truro, knew he had made false statements to a mortgage lender in respect of progress purportedly being made in respect of registering its charge over the course of eight months.
He also made false statements to a client and an agent in respect of the letting of a property – a file was not opened and documents drafted, as he had told them – and to his employer regarding the progress of transactions.
The tribunal found that Mr Burns knew as well that he had put false dates on stamp duty land tax and HM Land Registry forms in relation to three clients.
They concerned “very straightforward factual matters”, and the false statements were “made over an extended period of time”, supporting the conclusion that they were not mistakes.
Finding that the conveyancer had acted dishonestly, the SDT said it rejected the contention from Mr Burns that “he made the various statements in good faith or with genuine belief in their truth”.
The tribunal said it had given “due weight and consideration” to Mr Burns’ account of the “stress, anxiety, pressure and very difficult personal circumstances” he was under, but they did not amount to exceptional circumstances such that striking off would not be appropriate.
Mr Burns, who denied all the allegations against him, was admitted in 2004. He worked as a senior associate in the head office of Nalders in Truro, Cornwall, from March 2017 until June 2018, specialising in commercial property.
After he left the firm, the colleague who took over from him reported various concerns to the firm’s COLP. The COLP reported her initial findings to Mr Burns.
He responded by acknowledging various “practical errors” and stating that there was “no intentional dishonesty on my part”.
Nalders then contacted the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and launched an internal investigation, resulting in a further report to the SRA in March 2019.
Along with making false statements, Mr Burns was found by the SDT to have failed to complete post-completion formalities in respect of client files.
The tribunal said his motivation was “to cover up lack of progress made on his clients’ matters”.
It went on: “The misconduct was planned as it involved numerous deliberate acts over a period of several months.
“The respondent was an experienced solicitor at the time, with over 10 years’ post-qualification experience. Notwithstanding his comments about the firm, the respondent had direct control over the relevant circumstances and his actions.
“Whilst the respondent had made repeated reference to stress, anxiety and pressure, the tribunal had found that he was aware of the untruthful statements he provided.”
The SDT said that although Nalders had rectified the position of the clients involved, Mr Burns had caused harm by delaying client matters and damaging his firm’s reputation.
Mr Burns was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £9,550.