Solicitor who lied to clients about progress of litigation is struck off

SDT: Continuum of inaction

A solicitor who lied to litigation clients about sending pre-action protocol letters and failed to tell one of them about a costs offer until it expired has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that, after the litigation “spiralled away” from Philip John Burbidge, his two clients’ claims were struck out, leaving them facing costs orders for £105,000.

Mr Burbidge did not engage with the SDT and his position with respect to each allegation was not known.

The tribunal said his motivation for the misconduct was not entirely clear, but it was likely that he had “attempted to cover the lack of activity on his clients’ case which he had not progressed, and things which should have been done in his clients’ interests were not done”.

After that matters “spiralled away” from him to the detriment of his clients.

The SDT heard that Mr Burbidge, born in 1964, qualified in 1995 and was a consultant solicitor at South-West firm Battens.

In 2016, he issued proceedings in Bristol on behalf of Client A and Client B in a dispute over a property they owned, designed by the first defendant, with the second defendant advising on building regulation and the third defendant actually building it. The value exceeded £200,000.

They continued to instruct Battens until October 2018, when they instructed another law firm, Hughes Paddison, to prepare a negligence claim. This firm also reported the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The SDT found that Mr Burbidge had acted dishonestly in providing false information to his clients by saying that pre-action protocol letters had been sent to the three defendants when they had not been.

Between February 2017 and October 2018, he recklessly failed to comply with consent and unless orders in relation to providing information and documents, leading to his clients’ claims being struck out and costs orders being made against them.

His Honour Judge Russen QC ordered the claimants to pay £75,000 to the first defendant on account of costs, and £30,000 to the second.

Mr Burbidge was also found to have been reckless in making decisions on the file six times without seeking client instructions, including agreeing to a stay and to an unless order.

On 16 October 2018, the day after an offer expired from the second defendant which would have limited his client’s costs liability to £20,000, the solicitor updated his clients.

He told them about the applications for unless orders, the outcome of the hearing before HHJ Russen and the expired costs offer. On the same day Mr Burbidge went on sick leave and did not return to the firm.

The SDT said his actions “were not spontaneous”, and there had been “a continuum of inaction or inadequately progressed work” spread over many months, which was “essentially ‘too little too late’”. His clients had been “shocked by the costs order”.

The solicitor, who offered no mitigation, had “indicated that at certain points along the timeline of this case he had been ill, however, there had been no evidence to suggest that his poor health had been a contributing factor”.

Mr Burbidge was struck off and ordered to pay over £16,600 in costs.

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