SRA decides against retrial of junior solicitor who left case on train


SDT: No rehearing

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has ended proceedings against the junior solicitor initially struck off after she left confidential documents on a train.

Claire Matthews can continue to work in the profession, albeit with conditions on her practising certificate, after the regulator decided that a rehearing of the case against her before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) was not in the public interest.

Her case shone a spotlight on the treatment of young lawyers and mental health problems by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and SDT.

Her evidence of how losing the case on the train exacerbated mental health problems – to the point that she claimed she tried to kill herself as a result – caused particular concern.

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

It was the fact that she lied to colleagues for a week about what had happened that led to her strike-off, but last year the SRA agreed for the Divisional Court to quash the SDT ruling and order a fresh hearing before a new panel. She was also restored to the roll of solicitors.

It came after Ms Matthew’s pro bono legal team, appointed in the wake of the tribunal’s decision, obtained expert medical evidence; she had been unrepresented before the SDT.

In a statement today, the SRA said it then obtained its own expert medical evidence “diagnosing conditions relevant to Ms Matthews’ mental health”.

It went on: “Having then reviewed all of the evidence in the matter, including the new medical evidence, the SRA concluded that, in the very particular circumstances of the case, a re-hearing of the allegations against Ms Matthews would not be in the public interest, as long as Ms Matthews agreed to appropriate conditions being placed on her practising certificate, ensuring that she can practise safely.

“Ms Matthews and the SRA agreed to the conditions that would be placed on Ms Matthews’ practising certificate and, on that basis, the SRA obtained the consent of the SDT to withdraw all of the allegations against Ms Matthews, with no order as to costs. The proceedings are therefore now concluded.”

The conditions have not been disclosed for now; when Ms Matthews applies for a practising certificate, a decision will then be made about whether they should be made public.

Ms Matthews, who raised £14,000 in crowdfunding to help pay her costs before the High Court and the rehearing, said: “I hope that the outcome will help other junior solicitors who face similar, difficult situations, in knowing these decisions can sometimes be successfully challenged.

“I thank everyone who has kindly donated and offered their words of support, without it, I could never have envisioned the result. I am sincerely grateful for all the hard work and effort put in by everyone involved.”

Around half of the money raised was not spent and will be donated to mental health and wellbeing charity LawCare.

Emma Walker, an associate in Leigh Day’s regulatory and disciplinary team, who acted for Ms Matthews, added: “Claire’s case is a real example of the value of getting expert input in regulatory investigations and proceedings, from legal and medical professionals.

“It was disappointing that neither the SRA nor the SDT saw it as their role to identify the need for expert evidence, because that would have been appropriate in this case.”

Ms Walker noted that, since then, both the SRA and SDT have published guidance on health issues.

“Though this came too late for Claire, it is to be welcomed by the wider profession… It was encouraging to see the support Claire got from the wider legal profession and I wish her the very best for the future.”

Ms Matthews was also advised pro bono by Mary O’Rourke QC and Rosalind Scott Bell from Deans Court Chambers, Mark Harries QC from Serjeants’ Inn and Marianne Butler from Fountain Court.




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