SDT strikes off solicitor for practising while bankrupt and not repaying £8,000 loan from vulnerable client


SDT: solicitor’s culpability high

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has struck off a solicitor for practising while bankrupt and dishonestly misleading the police that he worked for a firm when attending clients at police stations.

But the tribunal struck out an allegation that he borrowed £8,250 from a “vulnerable” elderly man he represented without advising him to take separate legal advice, although it did find that he breached conduct rules in failing to pay the money back.

The tribunal also found that Alan Richard Birkbeck – who was born in 1968 and was admitted in 2004 – had breached conduct rules by failing to co-operate with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

At the material time, he was working as a part-time consultant at Liverpool firm Healey Kenyon McAteer in a part-time consultancy capacity undertaking police station and a few court attendances.

The firm suspended him in June 2015, when he revealed that he had been declared bankrupt in January of that year, shortly before he started his employment. The SRA also became involved at that point, as a result of information on the insolvency registers. Solicitors are obliged to inform the regulator within seven days of being made subject to bankruptcy proceedings.

The tribunal noted Mr Birkbeck had been bankrupt previously, in 2004, before his practising certificate was reinstated in 2011. It was therefore satisfied he would have been aware bankrupts were automatically barred from practising, and rejected his claim that he was unaware of an obligation to notify the SRA.

His actions showed a lack of integrity among other breaches of the rules, the tribunal said.

Subsequent to his employment being terminated and being told by the SRA that he could not practise, he was found to have told the police – and allowed a custody record to state – that he was working for another firm when representing defendants at a police station, when he was not. The tribunal said this was dishonest.

Mr Birkbeck met Mr A when he represented him at a police station in April 2015. The following month, he asked Mr A for a loan and eventually borrowed £8,250, signing an IOU that promised to pay the money back within 12 weeks.

However, there was nothing in Mr A’s statement to the tribunal that confirmed Mr Birkbeck had not advised him to obtain independent legal advice, and so the tribunal could not find the solicitor had acted with a lack of integrity.

But not repaying the money was a failure to maintain public trust, it found. It also held the Mr Birkbeck had breached conduct rules in not co-operating with the SRA, which said that it was still not known at the time of the hearing whether Mr A’s loan had been repaid.

Deciding sanction, the tribunal found the solicitor’s culpability was high. His conduct had been “deliberate, repeated and continued over a period of time”. He had acted dishonestly and taken advantage of Mr A, who was “a vulnerable elderly person, of limited means, and who had suffered identifiable harm”.

Mr Birkbeck had shown no genuine insight or remorse. It concluded: “The tribunal was satisfied that there were no exceptional circumstances in this case. The appropriate sanction to reflect the seriousness of the misconduct, ensure the protection of the public and the protection of the reputation of the legal profession was to strike the respondent off”.

Mr Birkbeck was ordered to pay costs of £3,453.

 

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