Accounts rules: no problems while solicitor was sole practitioner

The head of a council’s child protection legal team has successfully removed all the conditions on his practising certificate imposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in the wake of a finding against him by a disciplinary tribunal.

Paul Bailey, a solicitor at North East Lincolnshire Council, was supported at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) by testimonials from the council’s chief executive, and the designated family judge for the area.

The conditions were imposed by the SRA in 2012 so as to enforce an order by an earlier SDT.

Mr Bailey had admitted various breaches of the accounts rules while he was working at the two-partner firm Bailey & Tofield in Gainsborough, between 2007 and 2009. As a sole practitioner in the years before, he had not had any problems.

The original SDT ordered that Mr Bailey, who had been diagnosed with mental health problems, should also be fined £7,000.

Ahead of the latest hearing, the SRA agreed to lift all bar one of the restrictions on him – that which prevented him from practising as a sole practitioner.

The tribunal noted that Mr Bailey “might have the opportunity for considerable career progression with all the benefits that would bring, if the restrictions were removed in their entirety”.

The SRA accepted that there had been no issues when Mr Bailey was a sole practitioner before 2007, and did not challenge his honesty or integrity, but “did not feel that [his] experience of the last five years equipped him to run a sole practice if indeed he wanted to do that”.

However, the SDT, referring to the “most impressive testimonials” on Mr Bailey’s behalf, said: “The testimonial from his employer showed that the applicant was managing a considerable budget and a sizeable legal team, and while this occurred within the context of a wider organisation, the tribunal was satisfied that in what, according to the sworn testimony of the applicant, would be the unlikely event of a return to any form of private practice there was no risk of poor management recurring.

“Even when problems had occurred [in his old practice], no client had lost out. The tribunal was impressed by the financial responsibility and commitment which the applicant had shown in clearing the debts of his former practice which had all fallen to him because of the bankruptcy of his former partner, and his determination to clear all those debts from his personal resources.”

The tribunal concluded that it did not consider, based on all the evidence including oral evidence from Mr Bailey, that there “would be any future risk to the public or to the reputation of the legal profession if it removed the restrictions placed upon the applicant almost five years earlier”.

The SDT ordered that the restrictions should be removed, but Mr Bailey should pay the costs of the hearing, since the SRA was “obliged to respond to the application in its role as regulator”. These were agreed between the parties at £1,400.


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