The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has struck off a solicitor for falsely claiming to have witnessed signatures and dishonestly backdating enduring powers of attorney (EPA) “to save clients money”, after an unblemished career of 45 years.
The tribunal rubber-stamped an agreed outcome in which Stephen Michael Tobin admitted to three allegations of backdating between 2010 and 2013 and one of using £2,500 held for one client to pay off the tax bill of another, in breach of accounts rules.
Mr Tobin, who was born in 1948 and admitted in 1971, did not oppose the application and did not file an answer to the allegations, which included six of dishonesty.
At the time of the misconduct, he was a consultant at north-west law firm Brabners LLP, which he left in October 2014 and became a consultant for Liverpool-based Abensons Law in August 2015. Before joining Brabners in 2009, Mr Tobin was a partner at Bell Lamb & Joynson, also in Liverpool.
The misconduct came to light in 2014 during a routine audit by Brabners of the solicitor’s files.
The main allegations were that he backdated three EPAs to 2007, purported to witness the signatures of the donor and the attorneys when in fact they were not made in his presence, and that he had not taken proper steps to assess the donor’s mental capacity.
In one case, Mr Tobin said he had handled an EPA for a client at his previous firm and, when it had been lost in his move to Brabners, he backdated an EPA “to keep [the client] happy”.
The alleged accounts rule breach was that he failed to return some £15,000 to a client for at least six years, during which time he withdrew more than £2,500 to pay an outstanding stamp duty land tax liability for another client.
EPAs were replaced by the more extensive lasting powers of attorney (LPAs) in October 2007. In mitigation, Mr Tobin said his reason for completing the EPAs in two of the cases was that he thought completing an EPA instead of an LPA was “more cost effective”.
Mr Tobin pointed out that he had not acted for personal gain and that he “was working in a very pressured environment and considered that he had little assistance in reconciling and dealing with the balances that had come over from his previous firm, Bell Lamb & Joynson”.
The tribunal approved the proposed outcome, which was that Mr Tobin should be struck off.
He had accepted “that trust was a fundamental tenet of the solicitors’ profession and it would not be acceptable for a solicitor admitting dishonesty in relation to backdating and improperly witnessing EPAs to be allowed to continue to practise.”
The tribunal agreed that his behaviour overall was “not acceptable and had caused immense harm to the reputation of the profession”.
Mr Tobin was also ordered to pay costs of £10,000.