Solicitor who changed date of legal charge is struck off

SDT: Solicitor faces up to stigma of being struck off

A solicitor who changed the date on a legal charge having missed the deadline for registration at Companies House has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) described Diana Joan Marten’s misconduct as “a serious act of dishonesty” which benefitted the solicitor “to the detriment of her clients”.

The tribunal heard that Ms Marten, who qualified in 1990, was a solicitor at West Midlands firm MFG Solicitors from March 2015 to March 2019, when she resigned and retired.

In a statement of agreed facts and outcome, approved by the SDT, the SRA said one of MFG’s partners, Richard Connolly, opened a file in November 2018 on behalf of clients who had applied to remortgage a property in Coventry, run as a business student let. The law firm was also instructed by the specialist buy-to-let lender.

While Mr Connolly went away on holiday, Ms Marten was asked to help with the file, and her involvement continued when he returned.

After the transaction completed on 3 December 2018, Ms Marten asked her clients for the authentication code so the new charge could be registered at Companies House.

She chased her clients the following day and again on 10 December but the code was not provided; she was unaware that Mr Connolly had it.

Ms Marten missed the deadline of 24 December to register the new charge, returning from her Christmas break on 2 January 2019. The lender chased the firm for an update on registration and, on 7 January, Mr Connolly gave her the authentication code.

Ms Marten registered the charge with Companies House by recording the commencement date as 23 December 2018 rather than 3 December and submitted it to the Land Registry.

The lender chased MFG for the title deeds on 6 February, and Ms Marten admitted to Mr Connolly the same day that she had changed the date on the charge.

“She stated her overriding concern had been to ensure the charge was registered with Companies House within the Land Registry priority period to avoid any risk to the lender,” the SRA recorded.

She admitted also to the lender what she had done, saying: “This is entirely our fault for which we apologise.”

Mr Connolly advised her to refer herself to the SRA, telling her it would look better if the report was made by her rather than the firm.

The solicitor did so, saying “she had never missed a Companies House deadline before and was only vaguely aware of the procedure required to obtain registration out of time”.

The SRA said the failure “put her clients’ interests at risk” and “could cause severe financial ramifications, whereby the legal charge would not be enforceable”. It could also make it difficult to recover the debt if the company became insolvent.

Ms Marten admitted acting dishonestly. In mitigation, she pointed out how long it had taken for the case to reach the tribunal and that she had co-operated throughout.

The SRA said she “accepts and recognises, with deep regret and sadness, that the admitted allegation will result in the loss of her career”.

It continued: “The respondent is 69 years of age and recognises she will have to live the rest of her life with the stigma of being struck off and which is not the career legacy she ever dreamt of upon qualification.”

Ms Marten was struck off and ordered to pay £2,500 in costs.

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