Partner used colleague’s signature on statements of truth

Signature: Partner acted after assistant expressed unhappiness

A partner who signed statements of truth in six cases using an absent assistant solicitor’s signature has been handed a short suspension

Paul Fraser Langley admitted to the court what he had done when the assistant – who had been off ill at the time – said he was uncomfortable with his signature being used on documents he had not drafted.

Mr Langley, who qualified in 1995, was a partner based in the London office of the now-defunct Plexus Law, where he managed two team leaders, 15 file handlers and six support staff.

According to a statement of agreed facts and outcome approved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), one of the file handlers, an assistant solicitor, went sick in early September 2021 and was off work for three weeks.

The solicitor, ‘Person A’, was running around 130 files, which Mr Langley reviewed to identify any that needed urgent action.

Due to a lack of capacity in the team, he undertook some of the most urgent work himself, preparing six defences Person A had drafted. He signed six statements of truth by copying and pasting the Person A’s electronic signature from a previously drafted defence.

After Person A returned to work and expressed his discomfort at what Mr Langley had done, the partner applied to the court to file and serve an amended defence for each matter, using his own signature. The court granted all six applications with no orders for costs.

He also included a witness statement with each one explaining and apologising for what he had done. Mr Langley then reported himself to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), saying that he should have signed the defences himself as he had satisfied himself that the facts stated in them were true.

“I am extremely sorry for my error. I clearly should have signed the statements of truth myself. In my haste to deal with the many very urgent tasks and my own work I did not take appropriate care,” he wrote.

Plexus conducted a disciplinary hearing and issued Mr Langley with a first written warning. He suggested that he used Person A’s signature because he had drafted the defences.

The SRA originally accused him of dishonesty but withdrew this after deciding “that it was unable to substantiate that Mr Langley’s conduct was dishonest in accordance with case law, given the lack of evidence of Mr Langley’s state of mind at the time the statements of truth were signed”.

In mitigation, Mr Langley said he had been under “extreme pressure” at the time because the team was understaffed. No loss or detriment was incurred to the client or their insureds as a result of the his actions, he added.

The SDT said Mr Langley’s culpability was high but noted that the court did not report him to the SRA.

“Given the nature of the misconduct, the tribunal determined that a short suspension was an appropriate and proportionate penalty in order to protect the public and the reputation of the profession. Accordingly, the tribunal approved the proposed sanction of a 28-day suspension.”

He was ordered to pay the SRA costs of £3,500.

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