A solicitor who failed to issue proceedings, fabricated settlement offers and paid clients “compensation” from his own money has been struck off.
Mark Christopher Ungoed Davies, a former partner at Trevor Griffiths Solicitors in south Wales, told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) that a “white lie had snowballed”.
Between 2008 and 2013 he paid £28,950 to six clients, telling them the money was compensation for their various claims, but the tribunal heard that proceedings had not been issued in any of the cases and some of them had become statute-barred.
The SDT found that Mr Davies, who was born in 1950 and qualified in 1975, had been “candid and open” about his errors, but noted that he “had in fact lied to a number of his clients on various occasions over a long period of time about the state and progress of their respective claims”.
The tribunal went on: “He had repeatedly informed clients of fabricated settlement offers from opponents and then had made payments to those clients, albeit from his own funds, for offers they thought they had accepted.”
In his defence, Mr Davies argued that he “never intended to take advantage or defraud any individual client” and “there may have been a few who had benefited from his behaviour in that they obtained damages which may otherwise have been denied to them”.
Mr Davies said he had “convinced himself that there was no victim, and it had not occurred to him that the clients may feel cheated that payments had not been made by the respective defendant”.
He admitted misleading clients into believing that court proceedings had been issued, and into believing that personal injury claims had been settled when “in fact he had not issued any claims”.
He admitted further rule breaches in taking no action on claims, with the result that some of them became statute-barred, and making payments to clients “purportedly in settlement of their claims”. However, he did not admit that he had acted dishonestly.
The tribunal heard in SRA v Davies (case no. 11345-2015 ) that Mr Davies’s deception was discovered when he was instructed on a breach of contract claim. He sent a letter of claim to the defendants and threatened to issue proceedings, drafting a claim form and raising a cheque for the court fee.
However, the claim form and cheque were never sent to Salford County Court, and instead Mr Davies did nothing at all about the case for a year.
Following the take-over of Trevor Griffiths by Hugh Jenkins in April 2013, the client told another member of staff that Mr Davies had informed him that he had been to court three or four times but the case had been adjourned each time.
Mr Davies claimed to have received £1,800 in compensation from the defendants. It later emerged that he had transferred the money from his personal account into the firm’s office account.
In three other cases, all of them personal injury, Mr Davies obtained medical reports and offered settlements “purportedly from the defendants”, which the clients accepted.
Despite not issuing proceedings in any of the cases, Mr Davies made two payments of £12,000 and one of £750, money which came from his personal account.
Mr Davies described his behaviour as “indecisive and dilatory”, losing his confidence “due to ever-changing rules” in civil litigation.
“He accepted he should have been firmer and stronger with his clients but stated that the longer he delayed, the more difficult it became to be resolute in the manner in which he dealt with them.”
On the issue of dishonesty, the tribunal accepted that Mr Davies “did not set out to act dishonestly”, but his conduct was such that the tribunal “had no doubt he had embarked upon a deliberate course of action to conceal the true position from his clients”.
The SDT said: “It was not sufficient for the respondent to state that he had not realised his conduct was dishonest at the time, as he was effectively setting his own standard of honesty.
“He had acted with conscious impropriety and the tribunal concluded therefore, that he must have realised that by the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people, his conduct was dishonest.”
Mr Davies was struck off the roll of solicitors and ordered to pay costs of just over £4,000.