A law firm partner who asked if it was acceptable to call a gay trainee solicitor a “poofter” – and repeated the question to the trainee – has been fined £4,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Charles Darby, a commercial partner in the Leicester office of Freeths, was also sanctioned for allowing a client to use the firm’s client account as a banking facility.
He has entered into a regulatory settlement agreement, which means he will not have to face a disciplinary tribunal, after self-reporting both incidents to the regulator.
The agreement said: “On 19 July 2019, during an informal gathering of staff at the end of the day, Mr Darby in the context of a comment by a colleague, that it was acceptable now in certain circumstances to refer to travellers as gypsies, asked whether it was acceptable to refer to a homosexual trainee solicitor as a ‘poofter’.
“The trainee solicitor who was in earshot asked Mr Darby what he has said and Mr Darby repeated the comment.”
The colleague complained. Freeths issued him Mr Darby with a reprimand for using offensive language and a warning as to his conduct over the next 24 months.
“Mr Darby offered to apologise to the colleague for his comments, which was noted by the firm when making its decision.”
Later that same month, Mr Darby was contacted by a client who said a debtor’s solicitor would only pay the money the client was owed into Freeths’ client account, rather than direct.
Mr Darby said Freeths could only accept the money if it had been instructed in relation to the underlying transaction from which the debt arose.
The agreement continued: “Mr Darby proceeded to obtain details of that transaction from the client. On 1 August 2019, the debtor’s solicitor paid £123,558 into the firm’s client account. Mr Darby then arranged for the money to be forwarded to the client, even though the firm had not been instructed in relation to any underlying transaction.
“The matter came to the firm’s attention. It carried out an internal investigation and found that Mr Darby had breached the SRA Accounts Rules 2011. It required Mr Darby to complete additional training on the accounts rules but decided that it was not necessary to take disciplinary action against him.”
The SRA decided that a fine would “deter Mr Darby and others in the wider profession from similar behaviour in the future”.
It added: “A fine is appropriate to maintain professional standards and uphold public confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons because it recognises the seriousness of Mr Darby’s conduct.”