A solicitor has been struck off for conducting reserved activities when he was not entitled to do so and dishonestly misleading the regulator when challenged on it.
Nicholas John Peterken was charged with carrying out conveyancing, exercising a right of audience, and administering an oath, all without authorisation, from 2011 to 2014.
However, the solicitor had actually completed a statutory declaration and the tribunal was not sure that this was the same as an oath – an issue clouded further by Law Society guidance that said it was not.
The tribunal said it would be “of assistance” if the Law Society could review its guidance and resolve this issue with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Mr Peterken, who was born in 1960 and admitted in 1991, ran his own firm, Nick Peterken Solicitor, from 2003 to September 2011, when he closed it after a period in the assigned risks pool.
Thereafter he established Nick Peterken Law, which was not authorised or regulated by the SRA, although he retained his practising certificate, albeit subject to conditions imposed after he entered an individual voluntary arrangements in 2012 for reasons unrelated to his law firm.
As a solicitor running an unregulated business, he was not allowed to conduct reserved activities. He told the SRA that when the work he was doing became a reserved activity, he referred the client to a law firm.
At the end of 2014, Mr Peterken also started working at the firm belonging to his son, Peterken Solicitors in Bradford, as a fee-earner, but did not tell the SRA or advise his son of the conditions.
They shared an office and he said he would advise clients which of the two firms would be best for them, depending on their requirements. He would tell them that costs were “more reasonable” if his unregulated firm could handle the matter.
However, the SRA presented the tribunal with evidence that Mr Peterken had undertaken reserved instrument activities, including 99 applications to the Land Registry between February 2012 and 30 November 2014.
Further, he had appeared in Leeds County Court in July 2013. Mr Peterken said he had done so for no fee as a favour to a friend in distress.
He closed down the unregulated firm after multiple attempts by the SRA to use its statutory powers to see the firm’s files, which it argued it was entitled to do as he was a practising solicitor.
The tribunal found that Mr Peterken had undertaken the reserved activities of conveyancing and exercised a right of audience he did not have.
It also concluded that Mr Peterken had dishonestly and “disingenuously” claimed not to have carried out reserved activities, saying: “The respondent was well aware of what he was and was not allowed to do [and] well aware of what work he was doing.”
It continued: “The public would not expect a solicitor to undertake work that they were not allowed to undertake. Nor would the public expect a solicitor to provide misleading information to his regulator. The respondent had done both of these things.”
The tribunal dismissed a plea for a lesser sanction involving indefinite suspension. Mr Peterken pledged not to practise again as a solicitor.
The tribunal also rejected his claim to have psychological problems for lack of evidence.
In mitigation, the solicitor argued that the SRA had been too quick to attach “draconian” conditions to his practising certificate, thus making it harder for him to repay his creditors, and further had investigated his son’s practice unfairly, making it impossible for the firm to obtain professional indemnity insurance.
The tribunal acknowledged that there was no evidence of any client suffering a loss or receiving a sub-standard service.
But, striking him off, it said Mr Peterken was an experienced solicitor who “had chosen to set up a firm to do non-regulated work but then undertook regulated work anyway”.
His misconduct had been “deliberate, calculated and repeated” and its seriousness was “significant”.
He was ordered to pay costs of £16,000.