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Solicitor who “concealed nothing” from elderly client cleared of dishonesty

SDT: Solicitor made judgement call

A solicitor who “concealed nothing” from an elderly client has been cleared of allegations of dishonesty, recklessness and lack of integrity in his conduct of a conveyancing transaction.

Taking the unusual step of imposing no sanction on Alan John Simpson, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) also nearly halved the costs claimed from him by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to £11,900.

Describing the solicitor as a “credible and truthful” witness, the SDT heard that the principal of Alan Simpson & Co in Rayleigh, Essex “had always enjoyed a good relationship” with Client A, now in his eighties.

Client A instructed him to act in the purchase of a property in September 2017, which completed in November.

The Land Registry raised a requisition the following month because the lasting power of attorney (LPA) under which the seller apparently acted had not been registered.

Mr Simpson immediately contacted the seller’s solicitors, Firm B, but his Land Registry application was cancelled in January 2018. Despite reminders, it was not until June that he received a registered LPA from Firm B.

He then amended the original transfer deed by substituting a front page so that it showed a completion date of June 2018.

The tribunal rejected the SRA’s allegation that Mr Simpson had submitted a transfer form in November 2017 “purporting to be signed as a deed”; rather it had been signed as a deed, which was the intention of the parties.

“The respondent considered that the dating of the document was an administrative matter in which he had not sought to mislead anyone and there was no evidence that any party had in fact been misled,” it said.

Mr Simpson wrote to Client A in June 2019, saying registration of his purchase had finally been completed.

The solicitor accepted that some of his actions were “perhaps not best practice” and in part they had been “driven by frustration as a result of the lack of meaningful engagement by the seller’s solicitors”.

He accepted that he did not contact Client A to inform him of ongoing issues with the transaction because “it would have caused the client unnecessary distress”.

However, when Firm B paid the purchase money to the seller at a time when the LPA was not still not registered, Mr Simpson should have “taken stock and realised” that the time had come to inform his client, the SDT concluded.

Finding that the solicitor had failed to provide a proper standard of service to Client A, the SDT said all he needed to have done was make a phone call, supported by an attendance note and letter.

The other allegations against Mr Simpson, including dishonesty, recklessness and lack of integrity, were dismissed.

The SDT said Mr Simpson had not “sought to hide or conceal anything” from Client A and had made a “reasoned judgment” based on his knowledge of the client over “many years”.

Counsel for Mr Simpson argued in mitigation that he “had been a solicitor for nearly 40 years and had taken pride in his profession and reputation”.

The tribunal found that the motivation for Mr Simpson’s misconduct was “simply to get the job done and give effect to his client’s instructions” and had arisen from the ‘judgement call’ he had made in the situation.

The sole practitioner had demonstrated “genuine insight” and it would be “unfair or disproportionate to impose a sanction”.

On costs, the SDT said there was “no question” that the SRA was entitled to have brought the proceedings, noting there had been no strike-out application.

However, the number of hours of chargeable time claimed by the SRA was disproportionate and reduced from 155 to 73.