Solicitor struck off for undervaluing claim and then fabricating form

SDT: Not a moment of madness

A solicitor who submitted a claim form for far less than the case was worth, in order to avoid paying a large court fee the client could not afford, has been struck off.

Andrew Paul Rose then amended the claim form to show a higher claim figure and court fee and served it on the defendant, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard.

His actions were only discovered nearly two years later, as Mr Rose was leaving his job and handing over his files. He admitted what he had done on his last day and was dismissed for gross misconduct.

Mr Rose, who qualified in 2001, was a senior associate at City firm Chan Neill. From 2017, he was acting for a client in their claim for pain, loss and expense arising from dental treatment.

In October 2018, with limitation looming, he submitted the claim form to the court for solicitor service, stating that the value was “currently limited to £5,000 with a claim for injury in excess of £1,000”. The court fee was £205, the lowest possible.

In fact, the value of the claim potentially exceeded £500,000, meaning a court fee of £10,000.

Mr Rose told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that the client was not able to pay that and, with the defendant not responding to his request for an extension of time, he had to commence proceedings.

He said he knew the firm would not fund £10,000, while he considered borrowing it but was not in the financial position to do so. Issuing the claim at the level he did minimised the impact on the firm’s finances, “whilst making sure the client’s claim was protected in terms of limitation”.

In early May 2019, he realised that he had reached the deadline for service. He amended the claim form to record the value of the claim as being “in excess of £200,000 with a claim for injury in excess of £1,000” and the court fee as £10,000. There was no application to make the amendment.

Mr Rose told the SRA: “I panicked and did the only thing I could think of and altered the claim form and sent it to the defendant’s solicitors and hoped that somehow the claim would settle and it would be OK.

“I knew it was wrong but it seemed to me the only way at the time I could protect the client’s claim.”

After discovering what had happened, Chan Neill successfully applied to the court to amend the original claim form – Mr Rose paid the court and counsel’s fee to try and rectify what he had done.

Despite having originally not raised an objection, the defendant, represented by the Dental Protection Society, then had the proceedings struck out for wont of valid service.

Mr Rose admitted he had acted dishonestly and with a lack of integrity but submitted there were exceptional circumstances that meant he should not be struck off. He cited family issues, and what he claimed was an unsupportive work environment that meant he felt he could not ask for help.

The SDT acknowledged that his was a “previously unblemished career” and that the misconduct occurred during a period of personal difficulties, with the poor health of his parents and loss of his mother.

But “the nature and scope of the dishonesty was not a single episode” and pointed away from his actions being a ‘moment of madness’; the tribunal was also unable to establish “a clear link” between his personal issues and what he did.

Further, his claims about the working environment at the firm were not supported by the evidence of his bosses, neither of whom had been required to attend for cross-examination.

“The work environment described by Mr Rose was not toxic or exceptional and the tribunal noted that Mr Rose was not newly qualified nor a junior employee.”

He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £15,000.

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