A chartered legal executive who failed to check the identity of a walk-in client who said the firm had acted for him in the past has been rebuked by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The regulator said Peter Gaywood’s misconduct ultimately did not cause any harm, but it could have in different circumstances.
According to a notice published last week, ‘Client A’ visited the offices of Exeter firm Dunn & Baker in April 2022 without appointment and was introduced by the receptionist as a pre-existing client of another fee-earner at the firm.
Client A wanted his property to be transferred into the names of his four children and confirmed that he had previously received advice in relation to the property.
“Mr Gaywood therefore assumed that as the firm had acted for him before, that the relevant client identification checks had already been conducted on a previous occasion,” the SRA said.
“He states he made a mental note to complete these at a later date; however, did not do so.”
In June 2023, Mr Gaywood received an email from ‘Person B’ requesting a copy of the new title; he replied stating he could only take instruction from Client A.
“This is when Mr Gaywood realised that Person B was the owner of the property, and Client A had been a family member providing documents to the firm on Person B’s behalf. He had not undertaken client identification checks on Client A.”
Soon after, another firm of solicitors acting for the children and Person B requested a copy of the transfer application to the Land Registry and the date it was submitted.
The SRA said no significant harm was caused: “It transpired that Person B was the father of Client A. There was no foul play involved.”
Mr Gaywood’s conduct was reckless but there was “a low risk of repetition”.
The notice explained: “Mr Gaywood has no regulatory history and was experiencing extenuating circumstances in his personal life which impacted on his efficiency. He has been forthcoming with information and cooperative with the investigation. There are no other concerns about his conduct.
“Mr Gaywood took remedial action. He informed his employer as soon as he realised what had occurred and has self-reported to CILEX. He has complied with all requirements of him made by the firm following the misconduct, including further training on anti-money laundering.”
A rebuke was necessary, however, the SRA said. “Although Mr Gaywood’s actions have not resulted in any damage, it is important that we highlight how possible it was that the outcome could have been extremely different.”