Solicitor who lied about lost documents to appeal strike-off

Habel: Case raises important issues

A former junior solicitor who was struck off after lying about losing documents she was working on while acting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), is appealing against the decision.

Claire Matthews had only recently started working at Capsticks, the SRA’s external legal adviser, and ironically was working on a data protection case when she left a briefcase containing documents about the matter on a train.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal struck her off for trying to cover up what she had done over eight days, despite her evidence of how the incident exacerbated her mental health problems – to the point that she claimed she tried to kill herself as a result.

The tribunal ruled that Ms Matthews had acted dishonestly and that her mental health issues did not amount to the ‘exceptional circumstances’ to avoid a strike-off where dishonestly is found.

It said: “However, in all the circumstances of this case the tribunal concluded that there was no evidence which allowed the tribunal to conclude that the respondent’s mental state was of such degree that would have caused her to be unaware of the facts or incapable of distinguishing between true and false, honesty and dishonesty, and the respondent chose to follow the most catastrophic path for her both personally and professionally.”

Ms Matthews has filed her appeal at the High Court, arguing that the tribunal failed to investigate and properly weigh up the impact of the incident on her mental health and therefore it erred in its findings in relation to misconduct and dishonesty.

She says the decision to strike her off was unduly harsh and excessive, due in part to the tribunal failing to take into account a number of factors including her good character, the fact that no harm occurred, that there was no gain to her financially or professionally and that it was a one-off incident.

She is represented in her case pro bono by London law firm Leigh Day and Mary O’Rourke QC and Rosalind Scott Bell of Deans Court Chambers.

Ms Matthews is also looking to raise £40,000 through GoFundMe in case the appeal is unsuccessful and she is ordered to pay the SRA’s costs. Any surplus after meeting those costs and the £10,000 costs order of the SDT will be donated to LawCare.

As of last night, 137 people had donated more than £3,000 on the first day of the appeal.

Ms Matthews, who is currently working in an NHS 111 centre, said: “I feel it is important that this appeal is seen through so as to help highlight mental health in the legal profession and the devastating effect it can have when it impacts on careers.”

Gideon Habel, head of Leigh Day’s regulatory and disciplinary team, said: “Claire feels very strongly that an injustice has been done and is determined to put that right. The case raises important issues, including about how we in the profession, regulators, tribunals and courts deal with mental ill-health in the legal profession.”

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