The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has put conditions on the return to the law of a former Law Society council member who was once found by a Crown Court judge to have been “wholly unsuited” to running a legal practice.
Matthew Gauntlett has been told that can only work as a solicitor as an employee, cannot act as a compliance officer, and must undertake a course on the SRA Handbook 2011 – including specific reference to the Code of Conduct – within three months of his return to practice.
“Mr Gauntlett shall immediately inform any actual or prospective employer of these conditions and the reasons for their imposition,” the SRA added.
Back in 2006, Mr Gauntlett and his partner Sarah Beveridge were acquitted of money laundering charges, but their clerk, Laurence Peter Ford, was given a six-year sentence after the jury found that he had channelled some £200m in carousel fraud proceeds through the two-partner Hampshire firm without the solicitors’ knowledge.
The Law Society had closed down Beveridge Gauntlett in 2003 after the pair were arrested.
A later decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal recorded that Mr Justice Rivlin said he had no doubt that the reason the solicitors were acquitted “was that the jury accepted their cases that on any view they were both wholly unsuited to the responsibilities of running a practice on their own.
“Not merely were they inexperienced but they were quite out of their depth, neither of them having the strength of personality to run a firm of solicitors themselves, even a very small practice, and both had been woefully negligent in failing to fulfil the responsibilities expected of partners, positions which they should never have attempted to fill.
“Mr Gauntlett’s own counsel said he was a foolish man but he had been on any view careless and unprofessional in handling the needs of his clients and grossly negligent in the performance of his duties to the practice.”
The following year, the tribunal suspended them both for a year – which would have been 18 months had they not suffered a de facto suspension because of the intervention – for what it described as “a serious abdication of their duties and responsibilities as solicitors”.
It was their “laissez faire attitude and their failure to curb the excesses of their unadmitted clerk that enabled him to implement a money laundering system through their client account without arousing suspicion”, it found.
However, the tribunal also recognised the stress and anxiety, and in the case of Mr Gauntlett financial difficulties that the events had caused. The tribunal also noted that a number of people, including Law Society council members, had provided testimonials for him.
The SRA confirmed that this was the first time Mr Gauntlett had sought a practising certificate since his suspension ended.