Solicitor shifted client money around to cover mistakes


SDT: 12 acts of dishonesty admitted

A partner who used client funds to make payments for other clients – on occasion to hide the fact that they had been made subject to costs orders – has been struck off.

James Thomas Haigh, a former partner in the Manchester office of Blackburn firm Taylors, admitted 12 acts of dishonesty in total.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) approved a statement of agreed facts and outcome submitted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The firm reported his conduct to the SRA in July 2018 after Mr Haigh – who qualified in 2008 – had failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for his conduct, as a result of which he was expelled from the firm.

The SRA said that on six separate occasions between February 2016 and May 2017, Mr Haigh caused the transfer of a total of £47,470 in client funds to third parties without authorisation or consent.

Each time money was due to these third parties from Mr Haigh’s clients. However, for varying reasons, the firm held insufficient funds for those clients and, rather than requesting additional cash, he “chose instead to divert funds belonging to other clients to meet these liabilities”.

Three of the payments followed adverse court orders which it did not appear Mr Haigh had told the clients about.

Mr Haigh told both the firm and the SRA that he could not recall the transactions and that they must have been mistakes – in relation to one, he claimed the client had provided consent to the transfer, but the regulator said there was no evidence to support this; indeed, the client denied it.

The SRA said: “The frequency and volume of these transactions over a 15-month period belie any suggestion that they occurred only due to a mistake.”

It said Mr Haigh deliberately diverted funds so that he did not have to request further money from the clients, explain why there were insufficient funds or disclose that they had been subject to adverse court orders.

Mr Haigh was also found to have created a false time entry recording suggesting that he left a voicemail asking a client to confirm a transfer of £10,000 in writing as per their previous discussions.

Further, he told one client four times that he had, as instructed, brought a claim when in fact he had not, while he did not tell another client that their claim had been stayed and instead misled the client into thinking it was ongoing.

In non-agreed mitigation, Mr Haigh did not accept that the handwriting on each requisition for payment was his and pointed out that only the firm’s equity partners could authorise them.

He added that he was suffering “significant family stress, given that his wife had recently had twins, having already had their first son 13 months earlier”; his mental health was suffering as a result “and together with the pressures of work, this affected [his] ability to carry out his day-to-day duties”.

However, the solicitor did not contend that this mitigation amounted to exceptional circumstances which would justify any order other than that he be struck off

In agreeing with this, the SDT said: “The tribunal found that Mr Haigh’s repeated departure from expected standards was serious. He had admitted that his conduct had been dishonest in respect of each of the allegations.

“The tribunal determined that given the nature of the misconduct, the only appropriate and proportionate sanction was to strike Mr Haigh off the roll of solicitors.”

It also ordered that he pay costs of £45,000.




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