The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has closed an alternative business structure after obtaining a High Court order to obtain crucial evidence.
The regulator said it had intervened into Sai-Donne Limited on a number of grounds, including “reason to suspect dishonesty” on the part of Michael John Elsdon, its head of legal practice and of finance and administration.
The SRA said Mr Elsdon’s practising certificate had been automatically suspended, but he had “indicated that he is challenging the intervention at the High Court”.
Sai-Donne is not the first ABS to be shut down by the SRA on the grounds of suspected dishonesty – GPB Solicitors, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, was intervened into in October last year. However Sai-Donne is the first where a manager, rather than an employee, is suspected of dishonesty.
Sai-Donne Limited was granted an ABS licence by the SRA in January 2013. On the ABS register, its trading name is given as ‘M J Elsdon’, and two practising addresses listed – one in Norfolk, one in Devon.
However, SRA’s decision notice on the intervention, posted last week, mentions a third office of Sai-Donne – in Lancing, West Sussex.
The reasons for the intervention both into the practice of Sai-Donne and of Mr Elsdon are similar: reason to suspect dishonesty, failure to comply with SRA principles and the accounts rules and the need to protect the interests of clients of the Mr Elsdon and the firm, and beneficiaries of any trust where Mr Elsdon was a trustee.
A spokesman for the SRA said a “detailed investigation” was carried out into Mr Elsdon and Sai-Donne this autumn, “which included us having to obtain an order of the High Court to require Mr Elsdon to provide us with evidence”.
The spokesman said that on 2 October this year, the High Court ordered the solicitor to “disclose documents we had asked him to provide” and ordered him to pay the regulator’s costs of £15,000.
According to his personal website, Mr Elsdon qualified as a solicitor in 1985 and has operated his own practice since 1988.
The site says that 90% of the firm’s new work – which covers conveyancing, private client and family – comes from personal recommendations and repeat instructions. “This is a very high percentage and certainly a statistic to be proud of.”
Mr Elsdon has not responded to a request for comment.
James Dunn of Devonshires has been appointed agent for the intervention.