A solicitor convicted of stalking her husband’s former lover has been fined £1,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
In what it described as “wholly exceptional circumstances”, the tribunal said that “the reputation of the profession is enhanced by some consideration of humanity”.
Katherine Mary Simpson was in June 2016 sentenced to a 12-month nightly curfew and a restraining order after being convicted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
In a case that attracted considerable national media attention, she sent three letters to people connected to the woman that her barrister husband had had an affair with in 2013 (Ms A). They were aimed at dissuading Ms A from complaining that her husband had breached a restraining order Ms A had obtained against him.
The sentencing judge, while describing her behaviour as “utterly misguided” and “not trivial”, nevertheless was sympathetic to the situation she found herself in and said that although her actions amounted to a “course of conduct” – the test for stalking – they “did not go beyond that”. He found the letters were at the lowest end of the spectrum for such offences.
At the hearing last month, Ms Simpson was charged by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) with breaching three of its principles.
The solicitor, who was born in 1967 and was admitted in 1993, had since 2001 been a property partner with London law firm Pemberton Greenish. She had an unblemished record until these events. In response to the conviction, the firm asked her to resign her equity partnership and then allowed her to return as a consultant three months later.
The tribunal noted testimonials from “some very large clients” who had resumed instructing her after she returned to work and would continue to do so if the SDT allowed her to stay in practice.
In a letter to the SRA, Ms Simpson admitted to breaching principle 1, which states that solicitors must uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice. Initially she denied she had breached principle 6, which requires solicitors to maintain public trust. However, before the hearing, Ms Simpson admitted to the breaches as charged, including failing to act with integrity.
In mitigation, it was said Ms Simpson was remorseful and her “shame was palpable”. The tribunal was told that the Crown Prosecution Service had offered to drop the charge against her if her husband pleaded guilty to an allegation he faced. He declined to do so and was subsequently acquitted of that charge.
The tribunal was read the trial judge’s commentary in relation to Ms Simpson offence, in which he said: “Any right-thinking person would feel sympathy for you… rather than blame. What happened thereafter I have no difficulty at all in accepting you did to offer support to your husband.
“You did it, I accept, because you were worried that he would… be the subject of complaint in respect of the restraining order, and you sought to protect him and to support him.”
Deciding sanction, the tribunal recorded that the criminal offence was committed in “extreme circumstances, none of which were of [Ms Simpson’s] making, and which were exceptionally stressful, humiliating and painful”.
The tribunal observed that if Ms Simpson had written only two letters, she may not have been prosecuted at all, because it would have fallen below the threshold of a course of conduct over a period of time.
The tribunal placed “significant weight” on the trial judge’s remarks and noted he had imposed a sentence “at the lower end of the scale for offences of this type”.
It also noted that he had described the solicitor’s actions as “highly imprudent” but “no more than that” and had referred to “misjudgement”. The tribunal was satisfied there was no risk to the public or of repetition of the misconduct.
It found that while Ms Simpson was “culpable”, she had committed an offence “at a time of extreme provocation and stress, in an attempt to protect her family”. Writing the letters had been “the impulsive action of someone who felt desperate”.
Further, it recorded that “there had been no advantage taken of a vulnerable person, no concealment of the wrongdoing and the respondent had not realised at the material time that she was acting in breach of her obligations to protect the profession”.
Taking into account all of the circumstances of the case, the tribunal determined a fine was appropriate and that because the respondent “had suffered greatly, both personally and financially… to impose a substantial fine would smack of double punishment and heap further pressure” on her needlessly.
As well as the £1,000 fine, the tribunal ordered Ms Simpson to pay £5,039 in costs.