A conveyancer who failed to report important details to lender clients or follow their instructions in over 100 transactions has been fined £2,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SRA said that among the ‘material facts’ Emma Kate Dancer failed to report were deposits paid by third parties rather than the borrower, and sums “significantly in excess of prices which had been paid to buy the same properties very recently”.
In a regulatory settlement agreement that means she will not face the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), Ms Dancer, formerly a solicitor at Andersons in Nottingham, admitted failing to act in the best interests of lender clients and failing to provide a proper standard of work.
Ms Dancer also admitted continuing to act where a conflict of interest arose, because of her failure to report facts to lender clients, and, on a “number of transactions”, failing to check the source and authenticity of funds as required by the Money Laundering Regulations.
The SRA said it received information from Ms Dancer’s firm in 2012 relating to “concerns regarding her work on conveyancing matters from a few years previously”. It launched an investigation which found that “a number of lender clients” had suffered losses as a result of her rule breaches.
The regulator said Ms Dancer had not practised as a solicitor since leaving Andersons in January 2013, and Andersons Solicitors ceased to exist in September of that year.
Ms Dancer “accepted that the matters raised were serious breaches and, in totality, covered a significant number of transactions”.
However, she argued in mitigation that a “significant majority” of the matters took place before she became a partner in 2008 and “all matters relevant to the allegations took place six or more years ago”.
The solicitor said that, in relation to the requirement to inform lenders of transactions within the previous six months, which “was intrinsic to the majority of the breaches”, Ms Dancer said she was “simply not aware of this requirement until in or around 2008” and after that date no failure to report such matters arose.
In relation to deposits received from third parties, Ms Dancer said that “she genuinely believed that where a deposit was paid by the introducer/referrer” it had originally come from the client. “There was no dishonesty by Ms Dancer,” she submitted. “The situation was caused by pressure of work, lack of knowledge and/or a lack of ability to cope.”
The SRA added that Ms Dancer had stated that she did not intend to practise as a solicitor in the future.
She agreed to pay a fine of £2,000 and costs of £3,000. Ms Dancer also agreed not to “act in any way inconsistent” with the agreement, such as denying the misconduct set out in her admission.
Meanwhile, an assistant solicitor who failed to secure a party’s interest in a property by registering a form at the Land Registry, has been fined £5,000 by the SDT.
Kim Singh Landa, an assistant solicitor at HSK Solicitors in Bolton who qualified in 2006, was acting for Newbury Venture Capital on a joint venture with three individuals to buy a property in Blackburn. One of them, described as ‘Mr JM’, made a £25,000 contribution to the purchase price, and had an agreed profit on re-sale of £15,400.
Mr Landa provided an undertaking to Mr JM’s solicitors, Drysdales, to register form AN1 – noting Mr JM’s interest against the title – once the purchase money was received. However, it eventually emerged that he did not do this, even though in later correspondence with Drysdales claimed that he had. There is now a negligence claim against the firm for the losses suffered by Mr JM.
The tribunal noted Mr Landa’s mitigation, including that he had “accepted his failings at an early stage”.
It continued: “He was not making excuses for what had happened. He worked in a busy practice with a caseload of one to two hundred files and thirty to forty completions a month between three fee-earners with assistance from secretarial staff and the respondent’s father.
“The respondent’s reputation at work had suffered and this was doubly difficult as it was his father’s firm… The respondent assured the tribunal that this would not happen again. He had not paid as much attention to this matter as he should have done. He was responsible for the file and should have made sure things were done.
“Now he worked in a different way. He closely supervised, made sure that he was fully aware of what other people were doing on his matters and that he knew what was going on with his files.”
Deciding on a £5,000 fine, the SDT said that on the evidence, this was a “one-off” error. As well as the loss suffered by Mr JM, there was “harm to the reputation of the profession and to the reputation of the respondent’s father’s firm”, it noted.
However, Mr Landa’s misconduct was “towards the lower end of the scale”, although the failure to comply with the undertaking was an aggravating factor.
“The respondent had shown insight, regret and embarrassment. He had made open and frank admissions at an early stage… and had co-operated with the [SRA]… The respondent, and the profession, had to understand that a breach of an undertaking was a serious matter.
“A financial penalty was appropriate. In these circumstances nothing would be gained by suspending the respondent and an order striking him off would be too draconian.”