European Parliament: Contract was clear about use of expenses

A solicitor who acted for jailed UKIP MEP Ashley Mote, jailed in 2015 for fraudulently claiming £400,000 in European Parliament expenses, has failed to overturn his striking off at the High Court.

Lord Justice Hickinbottom said Christopher Charles Edward Hayes was struck off last year for dishonesty, after allowing around £60,000 of European Parliament funds to be used for various legal matters Mr Mote was facing which did not relate to his work as an MEP.

Hickinbottom LJ described the contract under which the funds were released as “unarguably and unambiguously clear” in covering only those legal costs incurred by Mr Mote “on matters relating to his activities as an MEP”.

The judge said Mr Hayes, a partner at Edward Hayes Solicitors, was “at all relevant times well aware of the function of the contract”.

Hickinbottom LJ went on: “He was, in particular, aware that legal services funded by the European Parliament under this arrangement were restricted to those relating to Mr Mote’s activities as an MEP.

“He was similarly aware that they could not be used to fund other, personal matters upon which the firm advised and represented him.”

Hickinbottom LJ said that during the course of the hearing, he understood that the solicitor’s QC “conceded that to have been the case” and he was “right to do so”.

The High Court heard in Hayes v SRA [2018] EWHC 1248 (Admin) that Mr Mote was sentenced to six years in prison in 2015, for making fraudulent expenses claims of around £400,000 while serving as an MEP.

Hickinbottom LJ said two of the counts related to payments made by the European Parliament to Edward Hayes Solicitors, which had acted for Mr Mote in “a variety of litigation”.

Mr Hayes, born in 1966, was admitted to the roll of solicitors in December 1991 and in 1994 became a partner in the firm his father had set up.

Mr Hayes was initially “the subject of a police investigation” himself, but was told in October 2014 that no charges would be brought against him.

Following an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), four misconduct allegations were made against Mr Hayes, only one of which was found proved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) in September 2017.

This was that the solicitor had “permitted his firm to use money which had been provided by the European Parliament to fund the provision of legal services under a contract approved by the Parliament for purposes not authorised by the contract, in circumstances in which the appellant knew or suspected that the purposes were not so authorised”.

This related to three separate matters, in relation to one of which Mr Hayes was also found to have been dishonest because it was sure he knew the fees payment was outside the contract; in relation to the other two, he would have suspected it.

Hickinbottom LJ said was “unpersuaded that the panel erred in law in any respect”.

He concluded: “In my view, it asked itself the right questions; and was entitled to make the findings and the conclusions that it made.”

Mr Justice Haddon-Cave agreed.

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