The Solicitors Regulation Authority has removed from the profession two people at opposite ends of their careers – an 80-year-old solicitor who held unpaid disbursements in his office account, and a trainee solicitor who used client money to try and hide her mistakes.
Alan Thompson accepted a rebuke and undertook to remove himself from the roll of solicitors under a regulatory settlement agreement struck with the SRA.
Mr Thompson was a partner at south London firm Cook Taylor for 43 years, before retiring in 2013. A 2SRA investigation found that the firm had, since at least 2001, routinely been holding legal aid monies in relation to unpaid disbursements in office account – sometimes for years.
A minimum cash shortage of £53,634.79 was identified in his firm’s accounts in respect of this money. “The effect was to bolster the firm’s financial cash flow,” the agreement noted. The SRA shut down the firm in November 2016.
As a partner, Mr Thompson had responsibility for ensuring compliance with the accounts rules in place at the time, and for the effective management of the firm.
Mr Thompson admitted breaching the accounts rules by not transferring the money to client account within the prescribed timescale, and by not having appropriate systems and controls in place to ensure the proper treatment of client money.
Accordingly, he failed to run the business of the firm or carry out his role in the firm effectively in breach of the Code of Conduct.
The SRA said that, in deciding a rebuke was proportionate, it took into account that Mr Thompson retired in 2013, was 80 years of age and “in poor health”, and has no intention of practising as a solicitor in the future.
Meanwhile, the SRA has made Holly Johnson of Denton, Manchester subject to a section 43 order, which bans a non-solicitor from working in an SRA-regulated practice without its permission.
She began working as a trainee solicitor with Cheadle firm Priority Law in July 2015, but was dismissed 17 months later after being found to have used money that the firm was holding for a client to cover up mistakes that she had made on five separate matters, and then changed the matter name to try and conceal the payment requests she made.
The SRA said this conduct was dishonest. In addition to the section 43 order, she was rebuked and ordered to pay a fine of £2,000, the highest sanction the SRA can hand out short of sending a case to a disciplinary tribunal.
The regulator said: “It is not known whether Miss Johnson is currently working at a SRA regulated practice.”