A veteran solicitor whose carelessness and ignorance of the accounts rules led to multiple breaches has been fined by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Christopher Attwood Messenger, who is 75, was also made subject to restrictions on any future practice to protect both the public and the reputation of the profession “from future harm”.
The SDT approved an outcome agreed between Mr Messenger and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
He qualified in 1974 and from then until 2015 practised as a sole practitioner in Henley on Thames as Messenger & Co. He still has a practising certificate but has not worked since then.
The firm closed at the end of 2015 but in 2017 the SRA began an investigation that found a shortage of £5,000 existed on the firm’s client account between 31 December 2015 and 9 May 2017.
Mr Messenger also provided a banking facility to a company – albeit one of which he was a 50% shareholder – and failed to complete client account reconciliations in the firm’s last eight months.
Further, as at 18 July 2018, the firm retained residual balances totalling £20,000 on 38 client matter ledgers. The clients had not been notified every year, as required, that firm continued to hold money on their completed matters
The solicitor admitted the breaches, subject to saying that the client account shortage arose because of bookkeeping errors when writing up the ledgers, meaning there were sufficient funds to cover the liabilities to clients.
He added that the reconciliations had been completed retrospectively because his former accountant had left his position in December 2014 and Mr Messenger had then “got behind with his bookkeeping”.
Many of the residual balances were historic and he said he had no way of contacting the clients concerned.
Mr Messenger accepted the SRA’s proposed fine of £5,000 plus a restriction order that prevents him from being an owner or partner of a firm, or a compliance officer.
The agreement said the misconduct was “the result of either oversight or ignorance of the rules”. It was aggravated by the length of time for which it continued “and the fact that he should reasonably have known that he was committing breaches of the accounts rules”.
Mitigating factors were Mr Messenger’s “open and frank admissions” and co-operation with the SRA.
The SDT said it accepted that “the misconduct was a result of Mr Messenger’s carelessness and was not deliberate”. The level of fine “adequately reflected the seriousness of the misconduct”.
Mr Messenger also agreed to pay costs of £7,500.