A solicitor who qualified more than 50 years ago has agreed to remove his name from the roll after admitting to multiple rule breaches, including failing to register clients as owners of a property and pay the stamp duty land tax due. He then over-charged them for the work he did.
Anthony Sheil, who admitted that the administration of his practice was beyond him, was also found to have 106 overdrawn balances on client ledgers worth £43,000.
Mr Sheil, who is 75, qualified in 1966 and practised as a sole practitioner in Altrincham, Cheshire from 2010 until the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) closed down his firm in 2015.
Since then, the regulator has paid out nearly £130,000 to settle claims made on the compensation fund.
His appearance before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was for the approval of an outcome agreed between him and the SRA which would see Mr Sheil remove himself from the roll and not seek restoration to it for at least five years. Further, he could not work for a solicitors’ firm without the approval of the SRA.
In any case, he told the SRA that he no longer wanted to practise.
The agreed statement of facts said Mr Sheil described the failure to register his clients’ purchase or pay the stamp duty for over three years as “unintentional and as a result of an oversight”.
He was only meant to charge the clients £955, but made 12 transfers over six months from client to office account amounting to £2,770.
On a separate charge, he accepted that he made an untrue statement in a deed of transfer by signing it as the property seller’s attorney, when in fact the power of attorney had ceased following the death of its subject, who was Mr Sheil’s aunt. He admitted that he should have obtained a grant of probate first and that he had failed to act with integrity, but said there was no intention to take advantage of the situation.
The agreed statement said: “The public would expect a solicitor to be assiduous to ensure that a formal document giving rise to a transfer of property fully reflected the true position so that others could place reliance on that document.
“The respondent’s actions were a significant departure from the ‘complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness’ to be expected of a solicitor and would have affected the public trust in the respondent and the provision of legal services.”
Other breaches included failing to return nearly £6,000 held in client account which he had not informed the clients was there, and failing to keep accounting records properly written up and to undertake reconciliations – he made 99 unallocated transfers totalling £48,400 from client to office account, with none allocated to specific client ledger accounts.
Mr Sheil said the failure to allocate transfers to client matters was because sometimes the client reference provided to the bank was not detailed on the bank statements, while occasionally he did not provide the client reference in the first place.
In several instances, the accounts rules breaches were highlighted by the firm’s reporting accountant, but Mr Sheil did not take any action as a result.
The agreed statement said: “The respondent admits that the situation arose from administrative inability and general lack of knowledge of and appreciation of the many provisions governing practice requirements.
“The respondent accepts in hindsight that he should have recognised the situation earlier and taken detailed advice and help in dealing with accounting and administrative matters.”
Mitigation for his actions was that he had admitted the allegations, that there was no allegation of dishonesty, that prior to these events he had enjoyed a “lengthy, unblemished career”, and that they occurred “party due to difficult personal circumstances at the relevant time”.