Solicitor who backdated tribunal application “to avoid criticism” struck off

SDT: Sad case

A veteran solicitor who backdated an application to the property chamber of the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) after missing a deadline has accepted being struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that John Pursley, acting for a group of leaseholders who wanted to enfranchise, told his law firm, his clients and the FTT that the application “must have been delayed in the DX”.

Since the terms of acquisition of the freehold by his clients had not been agreed, he needed to make the application by 24 March 2016. However, the FTT did not receive the application until 29 March, according to its post log.

Mr Pursley, based at Surrey firm TWM Solicitors, admitted that, on 29 March, he created a compliments slip with the date removed and used it to lodge an application dated 18 March.

The following month, he created a backdated letter to go with it and soon after lodged a witness statement stating that the application, the letter and a handwritten note confirming their despatch were all done on 18 March.

The witness statement was relied on by counsel to argue that application had been made in time. The FTT issued directions for future case management.

The misconduct only came to light when Mr Pursley’s former clients sent a letter of claim to TWM, which prompted the firm to launch an investigation that uncovered what had happened.

When confronted with its findings in January 2019, the solicitor told the firm that he had been “in a fragile state of mind” at the time of the misconduct, having recently returned to work after illness.

He said “the prospect of having blame and humiliation heaped upon me in the manner that I had observed these matters being handled in the past was too much to bear”.

In an agreed outcome approved by the SDT, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said the solicitor, who qualified in 1976 and is now retired, admitted dishonestly misleading his clients, his clients’ agent, his law firm and staff, his counsel, the FTT and its staff, and the Document Exchange between March and June 2016.

Mr Pursley took full responsibility for what had happened and said he could only “apologise wholeheartedly to TWM for my misguided action which was taken against the context of my recent illness and the extreme pressure that I faced on my return to work”.

In mitigation, not agreed by the SRA, he said he returned to work in early 2016 after a “protracted absence due to mental ill health precipitated by stress at work”.

He said his motive was “to try and avoid personal criticism for the omission at a time of what felt like a sustained period of persecution at work and instability or unpredictability of levels of support on top of work pressure”.

Mr Pursley agreed to be struck off the roll and pay costs of £10,400.

The SDT said it considered that “this was a sad case but that the misconduct was nevertheless at the highest end of seriousness” and a strike-off was the appropriate sanction.

    Readers Comments

  • Yellard says:

    Most might sympathise with the Solicitor.. Legal cases being thrown out forbdlight lateness is enormously frustrating.. But as he was retired… Being struck off is hardly a penalty.. I guess the £10.5k fine is the real penalty and pretty mild for what is called a serious breach.. I note that solicitors near or retired often receive mild fines, including for serious breaches such as abusing client funds.. The disparity with a young solicitor who has their whole carrer before them and insufficient time to (yet) build up their capital /savings is injust.

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