Sanctions for solicitor who posted offensive comments on Facebook and barrister who got clerk to lie

Facebook: Comments in private group

A solicitor who made offensive remarks in a private Facebook group has been rebuked and fined, while other unusual disciplinary decisions announced yesterday included a suspension for a barrister who got her clerk to lie about her availability for a hearing.

Meanwhile, a solicitor who took money from a trust whose beneficiaries were members of his wife’s family has agreed to remove himself from the profession.

Vivek Jain was given a written rebuke and fine of £2,000 – the most the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) can sanction a solicitor without sending them to a disciplinary tribunal. He was also ordered to pay costs of £600.

A notice on the SRA website said that exactly a year ago, Mr Jain “posted comments in a public discussion on Facebook. It was found that his comments were offensive and pejorative towards the religion of one of the participants”.

However, the SRA has since confirmed to Legal Futures that the reason it did not publish more details of his misconduct was because it actually took place in a private group and his comments could not be seen by any general Facebook user.

Last year, solicitors were warned about what they say in emails and on social media in both their professional and personal lives, in the wake of an increase in reports about offensive and inappropriate posts.

It came shortly after a solicitor was found to have made anti-semitic comments on Facebook and handed a suspended 12-month suspension and £25,000 fine by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, while in 2016, a barrister who sent out a series of anti-semitic and racist tweets was disbarred.

Separately, barrister Lisa Freeman received her three-month suspension after admitting a charge of professional misconduct.

In 2015, Ms Freeman asked her clerk to issue a written statement to her instructing solicitor that she would be unable to accept a brief to attend a hearing because she had a hospital appointment.

A disciplinary tribunal found that Ms Freeman knew this statement to be untrue as she did not have a hospital appointment on that date and instead attended another “professional appointment”. This resulted in the hearing that she missed being adjourned.

Sara Jagger, the Bar Standards Board’s director of professional conduct, said: “Misleading a court by providing false information about your professional commitments is a very serious matter and the tribunal’s decision reflects this”. The decision is still open to appeal.

The SRA yesterday also published a regulatory settlement agreement with Charles Martin Fairfax-Cholmeley, former a sole practitioner at Banbury, Oxfordshire firm Herbert & Cholmeley, in which he agreed to remove his name from the roll and not seek its restoration for six years

He also undertook not work for any person or entity regulated by the SRA or any other approved regulator.

The agreement said that Mr Fairfax-Cholmeley was the sole trustee of a trust whose beneficiaries were members of his wife’s family.

Over 17 months to May 2017, he used £11,890 of the trust’s monies to fund his firm’s expenses; he did not seek the beneficiaries’ consent.

The SRA inspected the firm on 30 May 2017 and Mr Fairfax-Cholmeley replaced the monies, plus interest, two days later. He closed the firm on 31 July 2017.

The agreement said: “In deciding that the agreed outcome is proportionate, the SRA has taken into account the admission made by Mr Fairfax-Cholmeley and that the beneficiaries of the trust have since confirmed that, had Mr Fairfax-Cholmeley sought permission to borrow money from the trust, they would have given it.”

Finally, a paralegal who was banned from working in the profession by the SRA on 16 March was given that permission just six weeks later.

Oliver Winters was working at London firm Memery Crystal when he was found to have lied to his client about the status of two commercial transactions and fabricated two leases. He was also rebuked for his dishonesty and ordered to pay costs of £600.

But a second SRA notice published yesterday said that it had given Hertfordshire firm Winters & Co permission to employ him so long as he was supervised directly by Richard Winters or, in his absence, Siva Winters. In the absence of both, he is not allowed to be in the office. It is not made clear whether they are all related.

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