A solicitor who practised without insurance has been spared an appearance before a disciplinary tribunal, in part because he was suffering from depression at the time.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has published a settlement agreement with John Thomas Elwy Owens, under which he has been rebuked and fined £2,000.
This is the most the regulator can sanction a solicitor without referring them to a tribunal.
Mr Owens is a recognised sole practitioner at Jos John Owens Solicitors in St Asaph, Wales. In 2016, the SRA rebuked him, imposed conditions on his practising certificate and withdrew his approval to be his practice’s compliance officer for finance and administration (COFA) because of accounts deficiencies.
Later that year, the SRA began a further investigation because Mr Owens had not renewed his professional indemnity insurance (PII) when it expired.
As a result, the existing policy was automatically extended for 90 days – the extended indemnity period provided under SRA rules – for the last 60 days of which (the cessation period) he was allowed to work on existing matters but not take on new instructions.
Nonetheless, during the cessation period, Mr Owens took on at least 16 new matters and also failed to notify the SRA that he had entered the two periods.
After the cessation period ended, he practised without insurance for four days, eventually obtaining a new policy and backdating the cover.
The SRA also found that the solicitor failed to put a new COFA in place for more than six months after his approval was withdrawn, and – at the time of the investigation – had not replaced all of the accounts shortage for which the SRA had previously sanctioned him. This was then done.
Mr Owens admitted the multiple rules breaches.
The SRA notice said the agreed outcome was “a proportionate outcome in the public interest because it reflects the seriousness of the breaches and creates a credible deterrent for Mr Owens and others”.
It also took into account Mr Owens’ mitigation that he was “managing a diagnosed condition of depression during the relevant times of the misconduct. This condition was exacerbated by the stresses connected to firm”.