Solicitor fined over conflict of interest in SDLT avoidance schemes

HMRC: Firm was using tax avoidance schemes before solicitor joined

A partner who acted for property purchasers and lenders and failed to tell the latter that the former were using stamp duty land tax (SDLT) avoidance schemes has been fined.

The regulatory settlement agreement issued last week by the Solicitors Regulation Authority means that it has rescinded its decision to refer Leanne Danielle Nourrice to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

The fine was calculated at £5,000 but reduced to £1,000 due to her financial means. For the same reason, she was not ordered to pay costs.

Ms Nourrice qualified in 2013 and became a salaried partner at central London firm Lauriston Saggar in May 2017, alongside two far more experienced solicitors.

The firm closed in February 2020 due to financial difficulties, although the SRA had to intervene in the remnants of the firm two years later.

The SRA said that, for 13 months to November 2017, Ms Nourrice was involved in over 31 conveyancing transactions utilising the SDLT schemes.

She acted for lender and purchaser and failed to inform the lender clients that the purchaser clients intended to use the schemes. Ms Nourrice admitted that this caused a conflict of interest or significant risk of one.

In mitigation, the solicitor said that, when she joined Lauriston Saggar as an assistant in 2016, it was already using the schemes.

“The firm’s processes in relation to these transactions were established long before Ms Nourrice joined the firm,” the agreement recorded.

“[She] continued to follow these processes after being provided with evidence by the firm that they were complying with all of its professional conduct obligations.”

This was in the form of a specialist counsel’s opinion obtained before she joined the firm.

The SRA noted that Ms Nourrice was no longer in practice, lived abroad and had provided evidence of medical issues.

“The admitted conduct giving rise to the allegations has now ceased as both the respondent and the firm have ceased to practice,” it said.

“On this basis the likelihood of future misconduct is negligible, additionally the intervention by the HMRC has ensured that any benefit or gain has been rectified.

“The SRA also considers that there are no complainant clients or third parties in this investigation.”

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