SRA fines firm that failed to comply with undertaking

Fine: Firm overlooked 

A law firm has been fined by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for a “fundamental and prolonged failure” to comply with an undertaking it had given in a conveyancing transaction.

The regulator said the fine for Cumbrian firm Waugh & Musgrave would remind the profession of the important role undertakings played in conveyancing matters.

Back in 2017, the firm – a recognised sole practice – provided a signed undertaking that included submitting the transfer of title and notification of the change against the property to HM Land Registry.

But these elements of the undertaking were not satisfied by the firm within “a reasonable amount of time”, the SRA said, in a regulatory settlement agreement published yesterday.

In mitigation, the firm said the pressures of work, coronavirus pandemic and Land Registry backlog contributed to the delays, while there did not appear to have been any harm caused.

Waugh & Musgrave has put in place measures to prevent a recurrence, including introducing a file undertaking form to act as a reference document, reminder of undertakings and schedule of key dates. The firm has also created an undertakings register and ensured there are diary reminders for all undertakings.

The SRA said a fine was the appropriate sanction and would act as a deterrent to the firm and others.

“Undertakings play a significant role in conveyancing matters,” it said. “It is a reasonable expectation that a member of the public would expect any solicitor engaged in related transactions to have clear understanding of this fact and be able to execute their duties according to the undertaking in a timely manner.”

In determining the amount, the SRA acknowledged that the error was “not intentional, nor was it a result of recklessness or gross negligence” – Waugh & Musgrave “did not apply attention to detail at a time of competing demands and clear attempts have been made at remediation”.

It set the fine at £1,600 but reduced it by 10% to reflect the firm’s co-operation, admissions and remediation.

In August, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers said it had received “too many complaints” about some of the practices it regulates breaching undertakings.

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