A solicitor has escaped being struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) after admitting dishonestly altering the date on a witness statement to make it look like it met a court-ordered deadline.
Gary Parkinson, who was born in 1962 and admitted in 1988, was given a six-month suspension after the tribunal held there were exceptional circumstances that meant striking-off would be disproportionate.
Mr Parkinson, a commercial and property litigation partner at Boyes Turner in Reading, appeared at the hearing and was represented by Geoffrey Williams QC. The tribunal heard medical evidence that he had been suffering from anxiety and depression.
He admitted having falsified the date on a witness statement provided by his client so that it purported to have been made two months’ earlier. He also admitted falsifying the date on the exhibit sheet to the witness statement; sending misleading letters to the other side falsely claiming to have complied with a court order, enclosing a copy of the doctored statement; and twice attempting to mislead Slough County Court.
He also admitted having misled his client that her witness statement needed to be served by 22 April 2015, implying that the deadline had been extended, when the correct deadline for service of 2 March had already been missed.
But Mr Parkinson denied misconduct in failing to have served witness evidence on behalf of his client on time in accordance with a court order. He had missed a deadline but this had been as a result of a diary error, he submitted.
The tribunal accepted this evidence, saying Mr Parkinson was “a credible and straightforward witness”. It said: “Whilst this was an omission that fell short of what was proper in the circumstances, the conduct was not so serious as to amount to misconduct. The tribunal was mindful that missing deadlines was not an uncommon feature of litigation.”
The dishonesty came to light because the solicitor was admitted as an inpatient to hospital for treatment for anxiety and depression. During his absence the relevant files were reviewed and subsequently he admitted to a fellow partner and head of the firm’s dispute resolution group that he had backdated his client’s witness statement. The firm reported the conduct to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
On the question of dishonesty, Mr Parkinson told the tribunal: “I have admitted my conduct was dishonest because whilst I know that I was not in my right mind and very unwell during that week and the weeks leading up to it, I cannot say – because I do not remember – that I was unaware of what I was doing was wrong.
“I am more comfortable with accepting this and the sanction deemed appropriate by the tribunal without seeking to argue that my mental state was such that I could not tell the difference between right and wrong.”
Mr Parkinson provided the SRA with details of the stress he maintained he had been under as a consequence of managerial roles he had held. He also said he “went into a state I can only describe as something between mental paralysis and extreme anxiety… I recall thinking that I just needed to get a witness statement drafted and I made a number of attempts to do this…
“In the end I am afraid I just panicked and changed the date on the witness statement… I remember that my overriding thoughts were to put off the inevitable, but at the same time that was all I could think of to do.”
In deciding that striking off was not the appropriate sanction, the tribunal recorded: “The respondent had acted dishonestly although the tribunal accepted he had clearly been ill at the time suffering from anxiety and depression which had affected his mental abilities. His conduct had caused harm to the reputation of the profession and indeed, loss had been caused to the firm who had made payments to the client.
However, it continued: “The respondent had admitted his conduct to his firm, he had co-operated throughout, shown genuine insight and remorse, and he had made open frank admissions from the outset.”
The tribunal also took into account the respondent’s health issues and found medical evidence on his behalf to be “compelling”.
It continued: “This had been one act of dishonesty over a period of three days during a time when the respondent had suffered mental health issues. He had otherwise had an unblemished long period of practice. The references provided had been quite exceptional, indeed the respondent’s partners wanted him to return to work with the firm”.
Finding that “exceptional circumstances” applied to make striking off “disproportionate” and that six months’ suspension was an appropriate sanction, it concluded that: “In this particular case neither the protection of the public nor the protection of the reputation of the profession required the removal of the respondent from the roll of solicitors. He was not a risk to the public.”
Mr Parkinson was ordered to pay costs of £8,750.