Solicitor who lied about lost documents wins SDT rehearing

Habel: Case raises significant questions

A junior solicitor struck off last year after she left confidential documents in a locked case on a train is to have a retrial to reconsider the impact of her mental health on her actions.

The case of Claire Matthews sparked concern because of her evidence of how losing the case exacerbated mental health problems – to the point that she claimed she tried to kill herself as a result.

It was the fact that she lied to colleagues for a week about what had happened that led to her strike-off.

The former Capsticks solicitor was actually working on a data protection case for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), and it was the regulator’s documents that she lost.

The SRA agreed for the Divisional Court to quash the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) ruling and order a fresh hearing before a new panel.

It came after Ms Matthew’s pro bono legal team, appointed in the wake of the tribunal’s decision, obtained expert medical evidence.

She is represented by Leigh Day and barristers Mary O’Rourke QC, Mark Harries QC and Rosalind Scott Bell.

Previously, the SRA chief executive, Paul Philip, said he was satisfied that its handling of the case was “appropriate”.

Ms Matthews, who was unrepresented before the SDT, launched a GoFundMe page to help cover her costs of the appeal last year. As of last night, she had raised £13,750 from a target of £40,000.

The parties have agreed to bear their own costs of the appeal, but the crowdfunding goes on to cover future costs, including if the tribunal finds against her again. She has committed to donate any surplus funds to healthcare charity LawCare.

Ms Matthews said she was overwhelmed by the support she had received from donors and her lawyers.

“I could not have envisaged, when I started this appeal, that the decision at the original tribunal could be successfully challenged so as to give me a chance to clear my name on an equal footing with the SRA…

“It is so important to support any newly qualified professional but especially those who are suffering but afraid to speak out. After the year we have all had it is ever more important. If this process has taught me anything it is never suffer alone and never give up.”

She added that LawCare had been “wonderfully supportive” of her during the entire process.

Gideon Habel, head of Leigh Day’s regulatory & disciplinary team, said: “It was clear from the outset of our instruction that Claire’s case raised significant questions about how the SRA, the SDT and the profession itself deal with allegations of misconduct in the context of mental ill-health.”

An SRA spokesman said: “As set out in the consent order, we agree that in these particular circumstances the new evidence brought forward should be considered by the tribunal.”

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