A solicitor who “deliberately misled” the Solicitor Regulation Authority (SRA) and continued to practise after telling the regulator his law firm was closed has been struck off.
Sole practitioner Huw Price was found to have repeatedly given false and misleading information to the SRA, to have practised for two years without authorisation, and applied to have restrictions on his practising certificate (PC) lifted despite being bankrupt.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Mr Price had kept the SRA in ignorance “for as long as possible”, and “in so far as his actions could be understood his motivation had been his own survival”.
The SDT went on: “He continued to practise after he served notice of closure on the applicant and while supposedly the firm was being wound down.
“To some extent his efforts to deceive were planned in that the dishonesty in both cases demonstrated a course of misconduct.”
Mr Price was born in 1969 admitted as a solicitor in 1993. He became a partner in South Wales firm Gough Davies in 2002, alongside a ‘Mr BG’, and became the COLP in 2013.
When Mr BG retired in August 2013, Mr Price changed the name of the firm to Valleys Law Solicitors, but failed to obtain authorisation as a sole practitioner from the SRA.
He was granted a PC for the 2013-2014 year in August 2014, subject to the condition that he could not be a sole practitioner. Mr Price appealed, but the appeal was dismissed in November 2014.
The sole practitioner submitted a firm closure notification form to the regulator in May 2015, stating that the firm had closed in April 2015.
He was rebuked, fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £1,500 in costs by an SRA adjudicator in August 2015 for practising without authorisation. A condition remained on Mr Price’s PC for the years 2014-17 preventing him from acting as a sole practitioner.
The SRA received a report in March 2016 from another law firm that it had received letters from Mr Price on the firm’s headed paper referring to ‘his client’ in a divorce matter. This was followed by a similar report from a second firm in July.
The regulator wrote to Mr Price, asking for an explanation as to why he was continuing to practise, followed by repeated requests for bank statements – all of which were rejected.
After Mr Price failed to respond to a production notice, the SRA launched an investigation.
An investigating officer obtained bank statements for Valleys Law in April 2017, which showed a balance for the previous month of £20,100. The SRA intervened in the law firm in June 2017 and suspended Mr Price’s PC.
However, the suspension was terminated the following month and Mr Price’s employment at another law firm approved, subject to conditions.
Meanwhile Mr Price had been adjudged bankrupt by the High Court in May 2017, but did not inform the SRA. The regulator found about this in January 2018, having been contacted by a trustee in bankruptcy.
In March 2018 an adjudicator refused Mr Price a PC for the year 2017-18 and revoked his PC for the previous year. The SRA asked Mr Price why he did not disclose the bankruptcy order but he failed to reply.
The tribunal found that Mr Price had repeatedly given “false and misleading information” to the SRA about the balance in his client account, falsely claimed to have paid the outstanding money to the firm’s remaining client and wrongly stated, in February 2017, that there were no remaining clients the firm held money for.
He was found to have breached the accounts rules by failing to maintain “any financial records” for Valleys Law Solicitors, failing to ensure that the current balance on each client ledger was shown and failing to conduct client account reconciliations.
There were further breaches of the accounts rules as Mr Price failed to return money to clients promptly and failed to remedy breaches promptly.
He was struck off and ordered to pay £24,000 in costs.