A solicitor who confessed to his law firm that he had faked a letter “within hours” of sending it to a client, has been fined £2,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Ian Giddings, based at the Warwick office of national family firm Woolley & Co, admitted creating and backdating the letter in a regulatory settlement agreement.
The SRA said Mr Giddings had acted for a husband, referred to as Mr H, in a financial dispute following a divorce, which required the valuation of the former matrimonial home.
“Mr H wanted that valuation to be carried out by a valuer who was a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. The wife (Mrs H) did not.
“On 21 March 2016, Mr. Giddings told Mr H that he had sent a letter to the court explaining Mr H’s position. This was inaccurate. Mr. Giddings had not sent such a letter.
“Mr H asked for a copy of the letter. Mr Giddings created a letter, backdated it and sent it to Mr H by email.
“Mr Giddings told Woolley & Co within hours of what he had done. Woolley & Co then told Mr H that Mr Giddings had not written to the court.”
However, the SRA said Mr H did not complain following the incident, and the matter was referred to it by the firm’s compliance officer for legal practice.
The regulator said Mr Giddings had “provided evidence that at the time of the misconduct, there were very serious personal matters” that had a significant impact on his state of mind, and his ability to recognise that his actions would be considered dishonest.
Mr Giddings admitted breaching SRA Principles by creating the letter, giving inaccurate information to his client over the telephone, and admitted that these actions would be considered dishonest by the standards of honest people.
The SRA described the family lawyer’s misconduct as “an isolated incident of very short duration” and said Mr Giddings “quickly realised that he had acted improperly and reported his misconduct to his employer” shortly after it occurred.
“His actions had no impact upon Mr H. Nor did they affect the outcome of the dispute between Mr and Mrs H. Mr H did not suffer any financial loss as a result of his misconduct.”
The regulator said Mr Giddings did not gain financially from his misconduct, there was no financial motivation for his actions and an audit of his files by the law firm revealed no other matters of concern.
The SRA said the solicitor, who was admitted in 2003, had not previously been the subject of disciplinary action
“The circumstances are exceptional such that Mr Giddings does not represent a risk to the public and it is not necessary for Mr Giddings to be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in order to maintain public confidence in the solicitors’ profession.”
The solicitor was rebuked for the rule breaches, fined £2,000, and agreed to pay legal costs of £1,350.
Meanwhile two former partners at DW Law in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, have accepted £2,000 fines from the SRA for making improper payments and transfers from client account. The SRA closed DW Law in December 2014.
Tara Deslandes, who was also the firm’s compliance officer for legal practice (COLP), admitted breaking the rules by failing to promptly replace a client account shortage of over £62,500 and discharge her duties as COLP and partner.
Wasif Ahmed, the firm’s compliance officer for finance and administration (COFA), admitted breaking the rules in the same way and failing to discharge his duties as COFA and partner.
The SRA said investigation of DW Law in November 2014 identified the existence of the shortage in the firm’s client account.
“The shortage arose because the firm’s sole equity partner made improper payments and transfers from DW Law’s client account. The partners did not replace this shortage.”
The SRA said in a regulatory settlement agreement with Ms Deslandes that it had taken into account her arguments in mitigation, including that she did not authorise the improper transfers which caused the shortage on DW Law’s client account.
Ms Deslandes said that she was “out of the office at the material time and for all but a few weeks during 2014”, had apologised for the firm’s inadequate risk management, co-operated with the SRA throughout its investigations and had no previous disciplinary sanctions.
The SRA said in a separate regulatory settlement agreement with Mr Ahmed that it had taken into account that the improper transfers were not authorised by Mr Ahmed, that he was only two years qualified at the date of the investigation and had no previous sanctions.
The regulator imposed conditions on Mr Ahmed’s practising certificate preventing him from acting as manager or owner of any authorised body, or from acting as a compliance officer, and preventing him from holding, receiving or having access to client and office account money, or acting as a signatory to any client or office account.
Similar conditions were imposed on Ms Deslandes’ practising certificate earlier this year. The two solicitors were rebuked and ordered to pay costs of £300.