A solicitor who took advantage of a former client has been given a record £305,000 fine by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), more than six times the previous highest amount.
Nigel Harvie, who worked at a firm of the same name in Oxford, took ownership of the woman’s house, in return for paying for her care and living costs.
The house was valued at £300,000 in 2005 when the arrangement began, and Mr Harvie paid out around £200,000 until she died in 2010. In 2008 the Land Registry valued the house at £800,000.
Fining Mr Harvie £305,000, the tribunal said the public would be “appalled” by his behaviour and that he had done significant harm to the reputation of the profession.
Previously the highest fine handed to a firm was £50,000 and to an individual, £40,000.
In his defence, Mr Harvie claimed the deceased woman had only been his client when he prepared a will for her in 2004 and that the co-executor of her estate was aware of his actions at all times.
The matter was discovered when neighbours complained to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that the deceased’s wishes that her estate should be used to set up a trust fund to help foreign students had not been followed.
Mr Harvie admitted to the SDT that he had entered into a financial arrangement with a former client without advising her to take independent advice, and where his own interests conflicted or potentially conflicted with the interests of the former client, and that he had acted towards his former client in a way that was contrary to his position as solicitor.
Mr Harvie, who stopped practising as a solicitor in 2012, denied that he used his position as a solicitor to take unfair advantage for himself or another party, but the SDT upheld this allegation as well.
He was also ordered to pay £37,016.40 costs at the hearing, held at the SDT in London in February.
David Middleton, the SRA’s executive director for legal and enforcement, said: “The SRA is committed to working with solicitors and firms to raise standards and uphold core professional principles. Solicitors occupy unique positions of trust often on behalf of vulnerable members of the public.
“Mr Harvie abused that trust, and the record level of the fine clearly reflects the seriousness of this betrayal. Although Mr Harvie stated that his former client was happy with the arrangement put in place, he should have ensured that she seek independent advice at the outset because he stood to gain financially and therefore there was a clear conflict of interest.”