Richard Barnett, former chair of the Law Society’s land law and conveyancing committee, has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Mr Barnett was senior partner of Barnetts, a volume conveyancing and litigation specialist based in Southport that was broken up and sold off in January this year.
The Law Society council member faces a dozen allegations of misconduct, 10 of them relating to money received under what was described as a litigation funding agreement.
Two further allegations, published by the SRA in a ‘decision to prosecute’ statement, claim that Mr Barnett gave “false and/or misleading information” to the regulator “and failed to co-operate” with it.
He is also accused of providing “false and/or misleading and/or incomplete information” to his former firm’s indemnity insurers, “and/or” suppressing material facts.
All the allegations are subject to a hearing before the SDT and are as yet unproven. Mr Barnett has indicated his intention to contest them.
Mr Barnett faces a complex set of allegations relating to the funding agreement, among them that he “did not carry out sufficient enquiries” despite being “on notice of the serious risk that the fund manager, in arranging for the fund to lend money to the firm, was acting fraudulently, or committing some other serious breach of duty” towards the fund and/or the investors.
It is claimed that he “unreasonably risked the firm being a party to transactions in fraud of the fund and/or investors, or which involved other serious breach of duty” by the investment manager.
“In all the circumstances, the transactions were dubious, and the money should not have been accepted or used,” the SRA allegations stated.
It is also alleged that Mr Barnett “misappropriated, or caused or permitted misappropriation of the funds”, and acted for a client where there was a conflict of interest, or serious risk of one.
It is said that “in furtherance of his own interest and those of another firm of solicitors”, he encouraged another solicitor “to change information required by the investment manager and/or fund as to the ability of the other solicitor to continue without further funding”.
Along with Mr Barnett, Anthony Swift, formerly a partner at the Stockport firm, faces eight similar allegations relating to the funding agreement.
It is also alleged that he permitted Mr Barnett to provide “false and/or misleading and/or incomplete information” to his former firm’s indemnity insurers, and/or suppress relevant facts.
Legal Futures was unable to contact Mr Barnett, but speaking to the TheBusinessDesk.com, he described the claims against him as “deeply flawed”.
He said the money, from the collapsed Axiom Legal Financing Fund, based in the Cayman Islands, was not used for litigation but for care home fee-recovery cases, where the NHS should have been paying the bills.
He was quoted as saying: “It certainly was not a scam. We received all the money under the terms of a funding agreement. There was no scam and the allegations made by the SRA are deeply flawed, in many cases on their own facts.”