Leading criminal law solicitor struck off over £100 “gift”

SDT: Solicitor admitted his misconduct

A leading criminal law solicitor has been struck off after asking a police station client to pay him £100 for travel costs and then claiming the money from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).

Michael Garstang, based at the time at national firm Cartwright King, admitted asking the client to write a letter describing the payment as a “thank you gift”, which the client refused to do.

In an agreement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), approved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), the SRA said Mr Garstang, admitted in 1978, attended at an interview with the client at a police station in Winsford, Cheshire, in September 2018.

The client, interviewed in relation to a drugs offence, had been told he was entitled to legal aid. The police took no action but Mr Garstang asked the client for a cheque for £100 to cover the cost of travel, made out to him personally. The payment was made electronically instead.

The client later told the SRA that he had not been told it would be covered by legal aid.

He said he was then called by Mr Garstang in early 2019: “It was a strange conversation in which he asked me to write a letter saying the £100 I transferred into his account was a thank you gift and not a payment for his time and travel expenses. He dictated to me what he wanted me to write in the letter.

“I can confirm that I never wrote or sent the letter as what he wanted me to write was not a true reflection of what happened and I found the telephone call from Mr Garstang disconcerting.”

Cartwright King found out what had happened when the head of compliance reviewed case files prior to an audit by the LAA in May 2019, and reported the matter to the SRA.

Mr Garstang set up his own firm, Garstangs, in 1988. In 2015, what was by then Garstangs Burrows Bussin, which had offices in Manchester, Bolton and London, merged with Cartwright King.

Mr Garstang admitted what he had done and that he had acted with a lack of integrity and dishonestly.

In mitigation, Mr Garstang said his career as a criminal defence solicitor had been “long and successful”. He had admitted the offences in the early stages and voluntarily sought to come off the roll.

The SDT said his “repeated dishonesty” was planned and deliberate, though to his credit he made “full admissions and accepted the likely consequence of his actions”.

Mr Garstang agreed to be struck off and was ordered to pay £16,950 in costs.

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