A North-East law firm that pitched itself as the future of criminal legal aid practice a decade ago by combining barristers and solicitors was formally wound up last month.
Kyles Legal Practice – which at its peak had offices across the region – filed a petition for voluntary winding-up in January which was ordered in March, with the Official Receiver appointed as its liquidator. It followed a public dispute between its directors.
Meanwhile, an employment judge in February accused the firm of breaching its professional obligations to the tribunal because it failed to appear at a reconsideration hearing for a default judgment issued against the firm.
Kyles was set up in 2010 by barristers Brian Mark and Nick Peacock. They recruited John Turner, initially to be an employee but then a director to comply with Solicitors Regulation Authority requirements at the time for legal disciplinary partnerships – a forerunner of alternative business structures that allowed solicitors to go into partnership with other lawyers. They also operated Crime Direct Ltd.
Mr Peacock told Legal Futures at the time that it was “absolutely inevitable” criminal legal aid practices would need to morph into a cross between a solicitors’ firm and barristers’ chambers.
Last November, an employment tribunal ruled that Mr Mark was not an employee or worker and so could not bring unfair dismissal and other claims.
Mr Turner told the tribunal that “the overriding desire in 2010 was to break down the traditional barriers between the Bar and solicitors and to save on costs. The intention was to keep as much work as possible in-house”.
Separately, Glenn Reardon, a former trainee solicitor at Kyles, brought claims of unfair dismissal, breach of contract (failure to pay notice pay), unauthorised deduction from wages and failure to provide a written statement of terms and conditions of employment.
Kyles failed to respond and default judgment was entered on 7 January. The following week, Kyles provided a response and applied for a reconsideration.
Its explanation for not responding in time said: “The situation is that both companies referred in the claimant’s particulars – Kyles Legal Practice Ltd and Crime Direct Ltd – have undergone a period of exceptional turbulence in respect of their affairs.
“It is a matter of record that there have been disputes between the directors, culminating in proceedings before this tribunal. Crime Direct Ltd was wound up on 10 October 2019, and Kyles Legal Practice remains in intense negotiations as to its future.
“The original response time limit set fell over the Christmas period, when the office was shut for the holiday season.”
The hearing of the reconsideration application was to be heard on 7 February but nobody from Kyles appeared.
In a ruling confirming the default judgment, Employment Judge Johnson in North Shields said: “I therefore proceeded to hear from the claimant and his sister-in-law Ms Ruffle. Both explained that they suspected the respondent had recently ceased trading, as a number of the claimant’s former colleagues had informed him last week that they had been made redundant…
“No-one from that firm has informed the employment tribunal that they would not be attending, nor have they informed the claimant. I consider that to be a breach of their professional obligations to the tribunal.”
The judge said he was not satisfied with the explanation given for failing to respond to the claim in time.
“It would certainly have required evidence under oath from someone from the respondent to satisfy me that it is in the interests of justice for this judgment to be set aside.
“In the absence of any such evidence, I am not satisfied that it is in the interests of justice for this judgment to be set aside. The respondent’s application is refused and the judgment is confirmed.”