A struck-off senior partner has been restored to the roll over the objections of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), less than seven years after he was first barred from practising.
A tribunal accepted that conveyancer John Parker Swindell should rejoin the profession as a fit and proper person, finding that because his original misconduct did not involve dishonesty, he should be given a second chance.
The SRA argued that the solicitor – who was admitted in 1994 and ran his firm from 2000 until he was struck off in 2013 – nevertheless had considerable culpability for serious and repeated misconduct.
Mr Swindell was struck off for numerous breaches of the accounts rules when acting for various members of one family.
In addition, he had accepted instructions from a person who was not his client and failed to inform lender clients that he was acting for both the buyer and seller of the properties.
Mr Swindell submitted that no dishonesty been proved. Neither had his breaches been for personal financial gain nor involved loss to clients.
Although perhaps “foolish or reckless”, they had instead been motivated by a desire to keep his clients happy and were not of the highest category of seriousness.
He was realistic that restoration to the roll would involve conditions on his practising certificate.
While initially he had stepped away from the profession, including taking a job that included the handling of cash, he had set up a business to provide former clients and others with unregulated legal services, and was currently employed as an in-house conveyancer.
Mr Swindell submitted testimonials from local solicitors, former clients and his current employers attesting to his competence, and that no complaints had been made.
The only reason he had not worked in the regulated sector, he said, was that firms were wary of taking on someone with his regulatory record. But he would be given a job if he was restored to the roll.
He said that if he were readmitted, he would not seek to be a partner again, nor want a management role, but would continue to work in conveyancing and litigation work.
However, the SRA argued he had committed serious accounts breaches which appeared to be deliberate, and then sought to disguise them.
The breaches were “repeated over a period of time and involved serious risks to client money”. Only good fortune had prevented clients incurring losses, it said.
The SRA said: “There was considerable harm to the reputation of the profession due to his departure from the complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness expected of a solicitor.”
It went on: “The applicant knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that his conduct amounted to a material breach of his professional obligations.
“At its very best, his conduct with regard to the [accounts rule] breaches was a complete abrogation of his responsibilities to supervise and manage the firm properly, including with regard to the stewardship of client money.”
His culpability for the misconduct was “significant” and he had preferred the interests of his lay clients to those of lenders.
In its decision, the tribunal accepted that the absence of a finding of dishonesty by the 2013 tribunal was a significant factor.
Six years had elapsed since the striking off, which other than in exceptional circumstances should be the minimum before an application for restoration could be properly made.
It found Mr Swindell to be “a genuine and credible witness” who had realistic expectations of future practise if re-admitted.
He had “done all he could to restore his reputation”, it found, and had submitted a diverse range of testimonials.
The tribunal recorded that it “did not find that this was a case where to sustain public confidence in the reputation of the profession, the applicant having been expelled, should be denied re-admission”.
Overall, he had shown he was “a fit and proper person for re-admittance to the roll”.
However, it ruled, he should never be allowed to be a sole practitioner, a signatory to a client account, or a compliance officer. He should not be a partner for at least five years.
He must also attend courses on different aspects of conduct within 12 months.
Mr Swindell was ordered to pay costs agreed at £3,000.