“Deplorable” solicitor struck off for manifest incompetence

SDT: Solicitor demonstrated a flagrant disregard

A solicitor condemned by one judge for “wanton failures” to comply with court orders and by another for “the worst case of wholesale failure” he had ever seen, has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said the “extent and repeated nature” of David Anthony Ellis’s failures was “deplorable” and the harm he caused to two personal injury clients whose cases were struck out was “extreme”.

In both cases the defendants admitted liability early in the proceedings and the only issue in contention was the amount of compensation.

Client C suffered life-changing injuries in a motorbike accident and without prejudice offers in the region of £200,000 were made prior to his claim being struck out by Mr Justice Goss.

Goss J ruled in November 2017 that Mr Ellis, a consultant at North London firm SC Law Solicitors, had failed to comply with court-ordered directions on serving updated medical evidence, disclosure of evidence and loss of earnings.

Referring to these “wanton failures”, Goss J rejected his application for relief from sanctions, struck out the claim and ordered Client C to pay the defendant’s costs.

This led to a claim on SC Law’s professional indemnity insurance policy.

Client R’s personal injury claim following a road traffic accident was struck out in September 2017 and the claimant ordered to pay the defendant’s costs as well repay all interim payments.

Rejecting an application from SC Law to set aside the strike-out, the judge the Mr Ellis’s inaction represented “the worst case of wholesale failure” he had seen “in his life on the bench”.

Mr Ellis, admitted in 2006, worked as a consultant for SC Law between May 2013 and October 2017. He worked predominantly from home.

SC Law was alerted to the problems in August 2017, when another firm requested the transfer of a case in which Mr Ellis was represented an infant who had suffered brain damage in a road traffic accident.

An inspection of the file found that Mr Ellis had failed to comply with “a number of court orders” and at a hearing soon after, he was “unable to give a coherent explanation to the court as to the lack of progress of the claim”.

SC Law carried out an audit of Mr Ellis’s files, which the SDT heard “exposed, to their mind, serious issues regarding his handling of claims”, and terminated his consultancy agreement the same month.

He failed to return client files, despite having provided an undertaking to do so, and also for 10 months failed to comply with a court order to return the files, allow his electronic devices to be inspected and copies of documents to be taken.

Mr Ellis’s failures “extended far beyond mere negligence” and after termination of his consultancy agreement, he “prevented the firm from progressing claims by his failure to return client files entirely or at all”.

The SDT went on: “The tribunal found the extent and repeated nature of the respondent’s failures deplorable. They could only be described as manifest incompetence.”

Mr Ellis’s attitude to clients, his law firm, the court, his regulator and the tribunal – with which he did not co-operate – “demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the proper administration of justice and regulation of legal services”.

He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £20,000.

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