Solicitor struck off for parental consent affidavit deception

SDT: Serious departure from standards expected of a solicitor

A solicitor who confirmed that two affidavits had been signed and sworn in her presence, when they had not been, has been struck off.

Wendy Michelle Randall was presented with the completed parental consent affidavits by her daughter back in 2016, who was at the time working for Mr and Ms A.

They purported to permit one parent to travel to South Africa with children without the other being present, but when Ms A found the affidavits three years later in preparation for her divorce from Mr A, she complained to Ms Randall’s firm, Chester-based Hillyer McKeown, that she had not signed them herself.

Ms A said she had never met Ms Randall nor been to the firm’s office and yet the solicitor had signed the affidavits to say they had been signed and sworn in front of her. She accused her ex-husband of signing her name on them.

Ms Randall, who qualified in 1988, told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that her daughter, ‘Person B’, was working as a PA at the time for Mr and Ms A, and was handling their travel arrangements. Mr A was South African.

Given this, Ms Randall said she had “no reason, at the time, to believe that [Ms A] had not signed” the affidavit, and that she had acted with “the best possible” intention to assist the couple, who she knew were very busy, with their holiday imminent.

But she now accepted that she had made an error of judgement. She also claimed that she did not regard the documents as oaths; rather, she thought she was certifying them.

She told the SRA that she “trusted, and still does, her daughter implicitly and relied significantly on her assurances, together with original documents, to compare and verify the signatures”.

In an agreed outcome, the SRA said Ms Randall had undermined the requirements imposed by the South African government and the discovery of the affidavits “caused worry and distress for Ms A during her divorce from Mr A”.

This showed a lack of integrity and was dishonest – “anyone reading these documents would understand that the intended signatory… was being asked to confirm more than just a simple signature match”.

Making a false declaration, “however well-intentioned [the motives] may have been”, would be viewed as dishonest by the standards of ordinary and decent people, the SRA said.

While she did not seek any direct benefit from her conduct, the SRA said “she hoped to accrue new business for the firm by bending the rules”. During the firm’s investigation – which led to a final warning – she said she thought doing this favour may bring in work from Mr and Ms A.

Though she agreed that she should be struck off, Ms Randall pointed in mitigation to 33 years of otherwise unblemished practice, as well as her remorse and “genuine insight” into her misconduct.

“[She] recognises that she will have to live the rest of her life with the stigma of being a ‘disgraced solicitor’, which is not the career legacy she ever dreamt of upon qualification.”

During the investigation, Ms Randall also explained that her daughter had had an affair with Mr A and suggested that this was behind the complaint.

Approving the outcome, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said: “The tribunal accepted that the misconduct was not planned, and that Ms Randall had insight into her misconduct.

“She had made open and frank admissions and had co-operated with the investigation into her conduct. The tribunal considered that Ms Randall’s departure from the standards expected of her was serious.”

It agreed with the parties that a strike-off was “the only appropriate and proportionate” sanction.

Ms Randall also agreed to pay costs of £6,810.

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