A solicitor who let his firm operate without indemnity insurance, then lied about it to his regulator and a new insurer, has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Michael Derek Usher denied all the allegations against him, describing himself as “mistaken perhaps, nothing more” over whether he had insurance.
The SDT said it was not in dispute that the existing indemnity insurance policy for the solicitor’s Luton law firm, Usher Solicitors, where he was one of two partners and its COLP and COFA, expired at the end of March 2017.
Mr Usher, who qualified in 2010, accepted an offer of insurance on 31 March 2017 from AmTrust, arranged by broker JLT. However, he did not pay the premium after a funding application was refused.
The tribunal said it was “entirely satisfied” that AmTrust included “a clear, unambiguous statement that there would be no cover in place without confirmation of finance or payment of the premium”.
Mr Usher was warned by AmTrust in May 2017 that his firm lacked cover, and at the start of the following month told him it was withdrawing its offer. He failed to notify the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as he should have done.
By mid-August 2017, Mr Usher secured a policy from another insurer, Hera, but only by telling it that the law firm had cover at the time from AmTrust.
The SDT said these answers “were not true”, despite the declaration of truth on the form, since the law firm had no insurance and Mr Usher “could not have believed otherwise”.
Mr Usher, who denied dishonesty, said he had secured previous indemnity insurance policies “where the payment arrangements were not fully completed until after the inception of cover” and no reason to believe that this time “the procedure would be any different”.
He went on: “My belief that the firm had secured cover was genuinely held and proper. There can be no question that ordinary decent people would consider my actions to have been dishonest. Mistaken perhaps, nothing more.”
The tribunal said it was “entirely satisfied” that AmTrust had made was a “clear, unambiguous statement that there would be no cover in place without confirmation of finance or payment of the premium”.
Mr Usher was found to have failed to notify the SRA that the firm had entered into the extended indemnity period, after its cover expired, and then the cessation period at the start of May. This ended on 30 June, when the firm should have shut down.
There was then a period of 42 days during which he practised insured.
The SRA said Mr Usher nonetheless went on accepting instructions from clients when he was either in the cessation period – when firms are not allowed to take on new instructions – or uninsured.
The solicitor was found to have made comments in letters to the SRA which he knew, or should have known, were “apt to mislead them into believing” that the firm had cover.
He was also found to have made statements in response to questions on an indemnity proposal form which he knew, or should have known, were untrue.
In misleading the SRA and an insurer, Mr Usher was found to have acted dishonestly.
The SDT said there was no evidence of harm caused to any individual clients, but “there was significant potential for substantial harm”, while the damage to the reputation of the profession was “very substantial”.
It said: “It was a grave matter for a solicitor to mislead his regulator and make untrue statements on a proposal form for PII…
“The misconduct was at the highest level and the only appropriate sanction was a strike-off. The protection of the public and of the reputation of the profession demanded nothing less.”
Mr Usher was also ordered to pay costs of £8,000.