A high-profile City litigator has been struck off for using a client’s divorce settlement to fund his ventures to pursue digital dispute resolution.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) rejected Tony Guise’s argument that ‘Client A’ had agreed to lend him the money, some £353,000 in total.
“Client A essentially lost his life savings, has not been able to recover any of the money taken without his permission and has been unable to rebuild his life,” it said.
“Client A remained, as at the date of the substantive hearing, in a one-bedroom flat with his wife and two young children as a consequence of Mr Guise’s dishonest misconduct.”
Mr Guise was also found to have siphoned off £20,000 from CLAN Commercial Services (CCS) – a company linked to the Commercial Litigation Association (CLAN), a group he founded – which again was used for his various companies, including eCourt and eARB.
Mr Guise, 63, qualified in 1986. He ran Guise Solicitors but closed it down in May 2016 to focus on his commercial ventures.
He is a former chairman of the London Solicitors Litigation Association, sat on both the Law Society’s civil litigation committee and the executive of its civil litigation section. He set up CLAN in 2004, was its chair for several years and continued as a director.
Mr Guise did not give evidence to the SDT, which it said gave rise to the inference that “he had no innocent explanation or at least no innocent explanation that would withstand the scrutiny of questioning”.
He did not dispute that the transfers happened – the question was whether, as Mr Guise claimed, they were authorised.
Client A testified, and the tribunal accepted, that he made plain to Mr Guise in November 2014 that he did not want to invest or lend any of his £600,000 divorce settlement monies as he needed it to rebuild his new life with his young family.
There was also “no evidence on the client file to suggest that Client A instructed Mr Guise to use any of his settlement monies as an investment or loan and there was no investment or loan agreement entered into”.
In doing so, he had acted dishonestly, it concluded.
CLAN’s events were operated by CCS, of which Mr Guise was one of two directors. He transferred £20,000 from its accounts, which he said he used for development work on eCourt. He promised to repay it but, when he did not, the six solicitor members of the CLAN executive reported him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
He had previously made two transfers, which he claimed was by mistake and repaid them. After that it was made clear that he was not authorised to make unilateral transactions, the SDT found, but he went ahead anyway. This too was dishonest.
In respect of both allegations, Mr Guise made multiple allegations that witnesses were lying and accused the SRA of bad faith too. But the tribunal rejected these, as well as his applications to stay the hearing for abuse of process or rule he had no case to answer.
Mr Guise argued too that the CCS allegations did not relate to his practice as a solicitor or in the provision of legal services, and so was not a matter for the tribunal.
The SDT rejected this – CLAN was “intrinsically linked” to his position as a solicitor and “engaged the profession at large”.
Further, the allegation related to the dishonest use of CCS funds, derived from membership fees and payments for legal conferences, seminars and events.
“The tribunal determined that dishonest misconduct, if proved, on the part of a solicitor undoubtedly had a detrimental impact on that solicitor as well as public trust in the profession and fell well within the tribunal’s jurisdiction to adjudicate upon.”
The SDT concluded that Mr Guise was “motivated by self-interest as evidenced by his financial position at all material times and his desire to advance iCourt [sic].
“Each of the unauthorised transactions were planned, repeated and deliberate; they represented a grave breach of the trust vested in him by CCS and Client A…
“The tribunal determined that the harm caused to Client A was profound. Mr Guise embarked on a dishonest course of conduct which was an egregious abuse of his position and which took severe advantage of Client A.”
The misconduct was “at the highest level of seriousness” and a strike-off was the appropriate sanction. Mr Guise was also ordered to pay costs of £56,000.