Solicitor rebuked for leaving client unrepresented at hearing


Email: Solicitor disclosed to other side without permission

A solicitor who withdrew from a Family Court hearing over a fee dispute so late that he left his client no chance to find a replacement has been rebuked by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Stephen Daly, a director of Birmingham firm Owen Tudor, also breached his client’s confidentiality in an effort to avoid a wasted costs order.

Mr Daly accepted the rebuke as part of a regulatory settlement agreement that detailed how he was acting for a client over a child arrangement order and was due to represent them at a two-day court hearing starting on Monday 27 March 2023.

On 23 March, the hearing was adjourned but then reinstated the following day. Mr Daly emailed the client at 2.58pm saying that he “cannot now prepare this case in the professional way necessary”, and told the client to attend and ask for an adjournment.

“Mr Daly’s actions did not allow the client sufficient time or opportunity to seek alternative representation for the hearing,” the SRA said.

“Mr Daly did not make an application to come off the court record or to adjourn. He had no proper basis to leave his client without representation.

“Mr Daly appears to have seen the vacation of the original hearing as an opportunity to sort out fee disputes and then to prepare. When the hearing was reinstated, Mr Daly did not recognise his professional obligation to the client, and failed to attend the hearing.”

Later that year, Mr Daly emailed the client to discuss various issues, including non-payment of his fees, saying that he could not represent them any longer as he could not work for free.

On the same day, he emailed a copy of this email to the opposing side to ask them whether it would change their intention to apply for a costs order against Owen Tudor. The client had not waived privilege for this.

The judge also said in the wasted costs order that, in their view, the email was subject to privilege and had been disclosed without the client’s consent.

In mitigation, Mr Daly said the conduct had “minimal impact” on the outcome of the proceedings, there was an underlying fee dispute at the time of the conduct and he had a clean regulatory record.

The SRA decided that a rebuke was appropriate given that Mr Daly’s conduct was “reckless and disregarded the risk, or potential risk of harm his conduct could have caused to the client’s child arrangement proceedings”.

Further, he “failed to recognise his professional obligation to the client” and breached client confidentiality, an unqualified duty.

“He was reckless in his disclosure of the email and conduct of this nature has the potential to damage the reputation of the profession.”

The SRA said it considered there was a low risk of repetition.

Mr Daly agreed also to pay costs of £300.




    Readers Comments

  • Furious says:

    So the SRA , like the LA A, expects solicitors to work for nothing. That’s what would have happened.
    Can see them all going in for nothing, especially those at the top on their substantial salaries, taking no risks and producing nothing.

  • Mr DONALD R MACLEOD says:

    Much sanctimonious drivel from the SRA as usual. It sounds to me as if the solicitor was giving the client every chance to come up with the financial goods. The regulator, who gets well paid, rain or shine, seems to me to have no clue as to what solicitors have to endure from clients. The regulator seems to me to have it in for all solicitors.


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