The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has ruled that a struck-off solicitor, who had still not paid £2,700 of a fine it imposed for a previous offence in 2011, cannot return to the profession.
The SDT said it was “troubled” by Antoinette Taylor’s decision not to pay the remainder of her £5,000 fine until she knew the outcome of her application to rejoin the roll.
Ms Taylor, admitted in 1991, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,500 in August 2011, after the SDT found she had failed to fulfil an undertaking and also acted where there was a conflict of interest.
She was back before the tribunal the following year and this time it found 10 allegations against her proved, including withdrawing money out of client account contrary to the accounts rules and failing to “adequately account” to a client.
Further, she made an “untrue statement” in an application for indemnity insurance, failed to keep mortgagee clients informed and “improperly acted in a share sale transaction”.
While there had been no allegation of dishonesty, Ms Taylor had been involved in transactions which had shown signs of potential mortgage fraud and money laundering, but failed to raise the alarm. Ms Taylor was struck off and ordered to pay £28,000 in costs.
She told the latest tribunal that she wanted to return to the profession and practise employment law and landlord and tenant law – she had “no desire” to get into conveyancing work again.
She said she could be trusted with “any role save for the running practice or being a partner” – Metro Law had said it would employ her if she was restored to the roll.
Counsel for the former solicitor told the SDT that the fact there was £2,700 outstanding from the 2011 fine came as a “nasty surprise” to her; she had paid a sum in 2017 that she had not realised related only to the amalgamated costs of the 2011 and 2012 proceedings.
The SDT said it “would have expected someone who had been a solicitor for 17 years to appreciate the difference between costs payable to the SRA and a fine payable to HM Treasury”.
It would also have expected Ms Taylor to take “immediate and urgent steps to settle the outstanding amount” when she became aware of it in November 2022, even if it was an offer to pay by instalments.
“Instead, Ms Taylor had chosen to wait for the outcome of this application before addressing the issue. This called in to question Ms Taylor’s judgment about her obligations and this troubled the tribunal.”
On rehabilitation, the SDT said 40 hours of professional training in more than 10 years since the strike-off was “not sufficient”.
Ms Taylor had undertaken a large number of short courses and “focused on quantity rather than quality”.
“The tribunal saw no evidence that the attitudinal failings and lack of insight had been addressed by the courses she had attended.”
The SDT heard that the former solicitor’s current employment was as company secretary and director for a company that did “recreation and accommodation-related work in Europe and Zimbabwe”.
The tribunal said her evidence of employment fell “a long way short” of what was required for her application – Metro Law could have sought SRA permission to employ her before being readmitted to the roll but had not – while there was no evidence of a training plan.
“In those circumstances, her assurances that she had no intention of undertaking conveyancing work were not persuasive as that appeared no more than an aspiration as opposed to a guarantee.
“There was also no reassurance that if Ms Taylor found herself in a difficult situation in the future, that she would handle it better than she had in the past.”
The SDT was concerned that her reasons for wanting to come back into the profession were “unclear” and her evidence suggested they related to “how she would feel about it, rather than a genuine capability or desire to help members of the public”.
The former solicitor’s application to be restored to the roll, which the SRA had opposed, was refused and she was ordered to pay costs of £3,300.