The former senior and managing partners of Manchester firm Cobbetts, as well as its former finance director, are among eight people who have been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over alleged incompetence in the demise of the practice.
The move comes more than four years after Cobbetts filed for administration and was bought in a pre-pack by national firm DWF.
The eight are: Stephen John Benson, James Michael Boyd, Paul Andrew Brown, Nicholas John Carr, Mark Gibson, Jeremy Mark Green, Stephen Alan Thornton and Richard Mark Dean Webb.
All are accused of being “responsible individually and/or collectively for providing misleading information and/or for failing to provide material information to one or more of a third-party lender, an insurance company and a former member, and thereby exhibited manifest incompetence and acted in breach of principle 6 of the SRA Principles 2011”.
Mr Carr – Cobbetts’ former managing partner – Mr Boyd and Mr Brown are additionally facing the same charge in relation to their dealings with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, in breach of principle 8.
All except for Mr Thornton are facing a further charge, specifically: “From June 2012, by reason of the conduct giving rise to [the first allegation], and by one or more of the following: i) causing or permitting the firm being able to meet its debts; ii) causing or permitting members’ drawings to exceed profits; iii) failing to have an appropriate contingency plan in place; he was responsible individually and/or collectively for failing to run the business or carry out his respective role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles and thereby acted in breach of principle 8 of the SRA Principles 2011 and exhibited manifest incompetence.”
Mr Boyd, who was Cobbetts’ finance director, and Mr Thornton are non-lawyers and so face the prospect of section 43 orders under the Solicitors Act 1974, which would prohibit them from being involved in a law firm.
The SRA said the tribunal has decided that there was a case for each to answer, but stressed that the allegations are currently unproven. “As this is now a live court case, we cannot comment further on these proceedings beyond that which is published on our website,” it said.
A statement issued “on behalf of the former Cobbetts managing partner and Cobbetts’ former board members” said: “The SRA allegations, coming some four years after Cobbetts’ sale, are misconceived and are fully, and strenuously, denied. The evidence demonstrates that we acted appropriately and with propriety throughout.
“We have no further public comment to make whilst the matter is ongoing.”
Mr Benson, who was Cobbetts’ senior partner, still works at DWF as its client strategy partner; Mr Gibson is its head of corporate in the Birmingham office and Mr Brown is a banking partner. The SRA said that Mr Carr also worked at DWF, but he is not listed on the firm’s website or as working there on the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor service.
Mr Webb, who was business group leader for dispute resolution at Cobbetts, is a consultant at Bristol firm TLT, while Mr Green was said by the SRA to work at Gateley, and is listed by the Law Society as a consultant there, but he is not listed on the firm’s website.