SRA: private prosecution

A solicitor has been jailed for practising despite being struck off nearly two years ago in what is thought to be the first time a court has imposed an immediate custodial sentence for such an offence.

Anthony David Preston, of Northwood, Middlesex, was sentenced to three months in prison at St Alban’s Crown Court last week, after a prosecution brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

He was jailed for acting in conveyancing transactions, administering an oath and obtaining letters of administration despite being struck off the roll of solicitors in October 2012 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

The offending behaviour took place between November 2012 and May 2013. The SRA was alerted to this activity after receiving complaints about Mr Preston.

Mr Preston pleaded guilty to offences under the Solicitors Act 1974 and Legal Services Act 2007. The Recorder said that the SRA and other regulators do not seek to protect titles out of vanity, but to maintain public confidence in the professions. Mr Preston was also ordered to pay costs to the SRA of £20,376.30.

Mr Preston originally had a number of allegations found proved against him by the SDT in 2012, including dishonesty, misleading clients about the selling prices of properties in their conveyancing transactions and failing to inform them properly of the details of the transaction.

The SDT said he had dishonestly deprived clients of information which went to the heart of the trust upon which a solicitor/client relationship is based. These were all extremely serious matters and Mr Preston’s conduct had caused clients to suffer financial loss and caused a great deal of damage to the reputation of the profession.

Gordon Ramsay, SRA director of legal and enforcement, said: “Solicitors are struck off for a number of reasons. One of these is that it’s been found that they cannot be trusted to provide high-quality, competent legal services to clients, many of whom are spending large amounts of money. This was the case with Mr Preston, as the tribunal judgment shows.

“But he continued to carry out legal services, including handling house purchases, despite having his right to do so revoked. We brought this prosecution to protect the public. We’ve seen previous criminal prosecutions attract suspended prison sentences, but this is the first we are aware of where a court has imposed an immediate custodial sentence.”

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