A sole practitioner who “simply buried his head in the sand” over his failure to secure indemnity insurance and carry out an orderly wind-down of his firm has been reprimanded by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT said Simon Bergin, who was born in 1946 and qualified in 1971, had shown “immense remorse and regret” for his actions, but had brought the proceedings on himself, having failed “several times” to co-operate with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The sole practitioner’s firm, Simon Bergin, was based in Stockport and ceased trading in December 2013. Mr Bergin admitted all seven allegations made against him by the SRA.
The SRA said the firm, having failed to find indemnity insurance, failed to notify the regulator that it had entered the extended indemnity period and later the cessation period.
The SRA said Mr Bergin had failed to carry out an “orderly and transparent wind-down” of the firm’s activities, failed to comply with undertakings given to the regulator in a compliance plan and failed to provide updates on client monies held.
Mr Bergin also admitted failing to comply with undertakings given to the SRA as part of a compliance plan, failing to co-operate or respond to communications and failing to comply with notices served by the regulator.
He admitted a final allegation of making a payment of £1,120 from the firm’s client account to the Solicitors Benevolent Association without permission from the SRA’s ethics department, in breach of the accounts rules.
The tribunal heard that the payment was made in October 2014, after the firm ceased trading. The sole practitioner had contacted the SRA about it three years before but failed to respond to a request from the ethics department for further information.
Mr Bergin’s solicitor told the tribunal in SRA v Bergin (case no. 11452-2015) that the sole practitioner had been “actively seeking professional indemnity insurance”, but had been unable to secure terms.
The SDT recorded: “However, to his credit, he had arranged for run-off cover to be in place at a significant premium for which he borrowed a large sum of money from the bank.
“There had been no risk to any existing clients and all client matters were properly transferred to other firms or completed without concern, fault or complaint.”
Mr Bergin’s solicitor said he “apologised profusely” for his actions. “The respondent accepted his contraventions had been serious and he had simply become overwhelmed by the regulatory involvement of the SRA.
“The respondent was humbled, embarrassed and frightened of their involvement and had stuck his head in his sand which he bitterly regretted.
“He had had nothing to hide and, if he could turn the clock back, he would have acted quite differently. The tribunal was also reminded that he had a long unblemished career.”
The SDT concluded: “The tribunal was satisfied that the respondent had simply buried his head in the sand and had now shown immense remorse and regret for his actions.
“However, the respondent had brought these proceedings on himself having been given the opportunity several times to cooperate with his regulator and provide the information requested. He had failed to do this and was therefore culpable for his conduct.”
The tribunal went on: “Taking into account all the mitigating factors stated, that no harm had been caused to any individual, that the likelihood of repetition of such conduct was very low and the genuine insight and remorse shown by the respondent, the tribunal concluded the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case was a reprimand and so ordered.”
Along with the reprimand, Mr Bergin was ordered to pay costs of £3,250.