Solicitor had cannabis at courthouse to help with Covid anxiety

Glasgow Sheriff Court: Solicitor called in to use videolink
Photo: Stephen Sweeney

A solicitor caught with cannabis in a court building, which he said he had to calm his anxiety after the start of lockdown in 2020, has been censured for his misconduct.

Michael McKeown, a partner at Scottish firm Callahan McKeown, had accepted a fiscal fine of £325 for the possession and was then referred to the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Such a fine does not amount to a criminal conviction.

The tribunal heard that the solicitor, born in 1968 and qualified in 2005, and his partner at the firm had furloughed eight of their employees and so only they were available for court appearances.

On 6 April 2020 – a fortnight after the start of lockdown – while on leave and helping out his mother, he was called at short notice to speak to an “extremely vulnerable” client who was in custody at a police station, via a videolink at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

Mr McKeown’s intention was simply to try and calm the client down. As a result, he did not first drive home – he “took the view that the added journey would not fall within the rules that allowed travel during the pandemic restrictions” – and so was wearing casual clothes.

On his way to access the computer link at a largely empty courthouse, the police stopped and searched him.

The tribunal was told that Mr McKeown was not a cannabis user. “This period of time was stressful for many including the respondent. A third party had given him this small quantity of herbal cannabis thinking that it would help. [He] had it in his possession and had forgotten about it.”

The situation was then exacerbated by a report in the Sunday Mail newspaper, which had caused Mr McKeown and his family “great distress”

The tribunal ruled: “Whilst the tribunal recognised that these were unusual and unfortunate circumstances, it considered the respondent’s conduct such that would be regarded by a competent and reputable solicitor as serious and reprehensible.

“Solicitors are not expected to behave as ‘paragons of virtue’ but they are expected to act with integrity both in their professional and private lives. Solicitors must hold themselves to a higher standard in order to maintain the trust of the public and the reputation of the profession.

“Even taking into account all of the background circumstances, it could not be ignored that the respondent was acting in a professional capacity when he had entered a court building whilst in possession of an illegal substance.”

Mr McKeown’s advocate explained that he had a long history of working with the vulnerable in society, having been a social worker before retraining to become a solicitor and practise in criminal defence.

“This particular period of time was one of great stress for the respondent. As well as dealing with the consequences of the pandemic in his business life, his son had contracted Covid whilst working in Egypt.”

The tribunal accepted that there was no likelihood of Mr McKeown repeating this conduct and concluded that a censure was appropriate

Leave a Comment

By clicking Submit you consent to Legal Futures storing your personal data and confirm you have read our Privacy Policy and section 5 of our Terms & Conditions which deals with user-generated content. All comments will be moderated before posting.

Required fields are marked *
Email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


The marathon to achieving equity in law

For those in the legal profession, the road to gender equity is a marathon and, although considerable progress has been made, the sector has some miles to go.

Building a brand – lessons from Cazoo

Building a brand takes more than money – just ask Alex Chesterman, the founder of ill-fated online used car retailer Cazoo, which collapsed into administration last month.

The future of organic search for law firms

In a significant turn of events, thousands of internal Google search API documents have recently been leaked, shedding light on the intricate workings of the search giant’s ranking algorithms.

Loading animation