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Judge sacked for viewing porn at work accepts SRA rebuke as others also strike deals with regulator

evening dresses [1]

Judicial computers: inappropriate material

All four of the judges named by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office last year after being found to have watched pornography on judicial IT equipment have now been rebuked after the final one accepted his sanction.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) yesterday published a regulatory settlement agreement [2] with Warren Lewis Grant, who was an immigration judge.

In unrelated cases, the JCIO removed Mr Grant, district judge Timothy Bowles and recorder/deputy district judge Peter Bullock from their roles, and said it would have done the same to recorder Andrew Maw had he not resigned first.

In May the SRA issued written rebukes against the other three [3], after they all made headlines following the JCIO’s announcement.

As with the others, in Mr Grant’s case the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice were said to be satisfied that the material did not include images of children or any other illegal content, but concluded that it was an inexcusable misuse of his judicial IT account and wholly unacceptable conduct for a judicial office holder.

In the agreement, Mr Grant acknowledged that he failed to act with integrity or behave in a way that maintained the trust the public placed in him and in the provision of legal services.

In mitigation, the SRA said it accepted that at the time of Mr Grant’s conduct, “he was suffering from a reactive depression which was severe in degree”.

The SRA said it considered a rebuke to be “a proportionate outcome in the public interest because Mr Grant’s conduct was deliberate or reckless and was neither trivial nor justifiably inadvertent. The SRA has taken account of the action already taken by the JCIO, subsequent media coverage and the impact of that on Mr Grant when reaching this decision”.

He will also pay a £600 contribution to the SRA’s costs.

Meanwhile, in another recently published regulatory settlement agreement [4], Jason Cowley, formerly a partner in Witney firm Lee Chadwick, has been rebuked and fine £2,000 for authorising three transfers, worth £24,000 between them, from client account to office account for costs when they were not required and/or without having sent out a bill.

He also admitted that he signed and certified a personal net worth statement which contained “incorrect and misleading information and was sent to a finance company as a true record of his assets”.

He offered mitigation, such as having reported to the SRA his own concerns over two of the billing matters, while he said the other was a mistake where he genuinely believed that the firm was legitimately due costs from the client, arising from a separate matter.

In relation to his assets, he said any loan requested was unsecured and not directly linked to property over which there was some confusion.

Further, “the events mainly took place in a short period in 2013 and Mr Cowley has an otherwise good regulatory history”.

The SRA noted that Mr Cowley was made bankrupt earlier this year, which meant his practising certificate was suspended.

The SRA imposed the maximum sanction it can without referring a case to a disciplinary tribunal, and agreed to rescind the referral it had made. Further, Mr Cowley undertook to apply to remove his name from the roll of solicitors, not seek restoration to the roll for a year, and not work for a law firm in providing legal services to clients during that time.

Finally, the SRA has also published a regulatory settlement agreement [4] relating to a firm, Bolton-based Meade Law, which saw the firm take a £2,000 fine.

It accepted that it had used two businesses to provide witness statements, locus reports and translations services on personal injury claims without notifying clients that they would be contacted by these businesses. Further, their fees were not listed as potential disbursements and there was no written agreement with both businesses.

The firm admitted that it failed to act in the best interests of its clients, did not provide a proper standard of service, and failed to run its business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles.

In mitigation, Meade Law said it has ceased using the two businesses, has changed its standard client care letter to include third-party charges as potential disbursements, and ensured that there are standard precedent letters in place to notify clients that third parties will be contacting them.

As well as the fine, the firm undertook to ensure that any agreement with third parties in future was in writing. It also agreed to pay £1,350 in costs.