A tribunal has ordered the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to pay a solicitor £22,500 in costs after ruling that many of the allegations made against him were not properly brought.
Adrian Anthony Ring was found to have inadvertently made misleading statements to a court in a witness statement, for which he was fined £2,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), but a host of other allegations were dismissed.
The starting point where prosecutions fail is that SRA is not ordered to pay costs, because it is exercising its regulatory functions in the public interest. This is unless there is some other good reason to make a different order.
As a result, the SRA rarely faces costs orders after unsuccessful prosecutions, but here the SDT found that many of the allegations were based on “errors and misunderstandings” on the part of the SRA’s forensic investigation officer, which was a good reason.
Mr Ring sought costs of £40,000 – the brief fee for his counsel, Greg Treverton-Jones QC – but the tribunal considered this too high. Starting from £30,000, it reduced this to allow for those allegations that had been properly brought and, in one instance, proved. This led to a figure of £22,500 plus VAT.
The solicitor was also ordered to pay the SRA £5,000 in costs for the allegations that were properly brought – the SRA had asked for £15,000, from an original claim of £63,000.
Mr Ring, who qualified in 2002, was a commercial partner at London firm Lawrence Stephens until January 2017.
He faced allegations over four separate incidents, the first of which concerned his conduct of a piece of litigation on behalf of ‘Client A’.
While the SDT rejected various of the specific allegations, it found he filed a costs budget late and needed the other side’s help to sort out a bundle. But these failures, “regrettable though they were”, did not amount to professional misconduct.
Mr Ring was also misinformed by, or misunderstood, a court clerk that an upcoming hearing had been adjourned. The hearing went ahead and a wasted costs order was made.
The tribunal said Mr Ring ought not to have simply relied on the conversation with the clerk as the basis for not arranging alternative representation, but again found this did not cross the line into professional misconduct.
The solicitor did, however, provide a witness statement that gave “a misleading impression” about the state of the case’s preparation.
The SDT accepted that, at the time of drafting, Mr Ring anticipated it would be correct, but said he should have taken greater care by checking the position before signing and filing the statement.
Though the misconduct had been inadvertent, this failure to take care “amounted to a lack of integrity”. But it was not dishonest or reckless, as the SRA argued.
The second set of allegations were dismissed because they concerned a person the SRA had wrongly identified as a client of Mr Ring’s.
The third set related to questions of conflict of interest between the firm and a separate consultancy business Mr Ring owned. The SDT noted that the firm was aware of the business and found there was no conflict.
The fourth allegation concerned a statement the solicitor made on behalf of a client that the SRA said was “potentially misleading”.
The tribunal agreed with Mr Treverton-Jones that if a statement was capable of being misleading, “it was also capable of being non-misleading”.
As the SRA had to prove the allegation beyond reasonable doubt, the tribunal said it “could not see how the requisite standard could be met in those circumstances”.
The SDT fined Mr Ring £2,000 over the witness statement, taking into account the absence of any evidence of actual harm having been caused and the fact that he had been “careless rather than reckless”.
This was a fine that the SRA could have imposed without referring Mr Ring to the SDT. The tribunal noted that the solicitor had admitted “immediately” to the SRA that he should have corrected the statement.
The SRA had been wrong to accuse Mr Ring of acting dishonesty or recklessly in relation to this failure, it added.