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Solicitor’s dishonesty could cost compensation fund £600,000

Costs: Solicitor made round sum transfers

A sole practitioner who admitted dishonesty misappropriating £100,000 of client money could end up costing the compensation fund over £600,000, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has said.

The SDT heard that Elizabeth Marion Emberton’s motive was funding her business, and she tried to conceal what she was doing by false accounting.

It comes on the back of a case we reported last week from which the cost to the compensation fund could be £900,000 [1].

In an agreement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Ms Emberton, born in 1948 and qualified in 1972, accepted she had breached a position of trust.

“Her actions were planned – when she needed money for the business she would either just transfer monies from client account to office account or raise an invoice, regardless as to whether it was properly due and whether there were sufficient monies in that particular client account.

“The respondent has caused harm to clients in using their money to run her business. The respondent attempted to conceal the misconduct by false accounting.”

Ms Emberton admitted dishonestly misappropriating client money to a value of £99,900 and making “round sum transfers on account of costs” to a value of £328,800.

The SDT said it noted that the total shortage on client account “could exceed £600,000 based on claims made on the compensation fund”.

Ms Emberton’s misconduct was discovered after the SRA received a qualified accountant’s report for her firm, Emberton Solicitors, based in Enfield, Middlesex.

The SRA closed Embertons in October 2016, suspending Ms Emberton’s practising certificate.

The sole practitioner’s agreement with the SRA stated: “She had a scheme in place where she would improperly subsidise office bank account with client monies.

“False invoices would be raised on ledgers for clients where funds were usually available, but no physical bills were prepared, and the funds improperly transferred from client bank account to office bank account.”

The SRA’s investigation officer found that 67 unjustified invoices had been raised from nine client files she examined.

The SDT noted that Ms Emberton was dealing with “extremely challenging circumstances” during the time of her misconduct, which had a “negative impact on her heavy workload and how she was coping with her responsibilities at the firm”.

The sole practitioner said she was “suffering from stress and depression, but did not realise it” and she had “employed staff who made financial mistakes”.

However, she “did not seek to contend that her circumstances affected her decision making to the extent that she did not appreciate that her actions were dishonest”.

Finding that there were no exceptional circumstances which would justify a lesser sanction than striking off, the SDT commented: “This was a sad case, in which the respondent’s long and otherwise unblemished career was brought to a dishonourable end.”

The SDT ordered that Ms Emberton be struck off the roll and ordered to pay £29,200 in costs.