Suspension for bankrupt solicitor who continued to practise as locum


Bankruptcy: Solicitors automatically suspended

A solicitor who continued working after going bankrupt, which automatically suspended her practising certificate, and also pursued a private property purchase, has been suspended indefinitely.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that Sarah Louise Williams did not tell the two law firms where she worked about her bankruptcy nor, despite being an experienced conveyancer, did she mention it to the sellers of the property or her solicitors.

Ms Williams told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that she was not aware that, under the Solicitors Act 1974, her practising certificate was automatically suspended when she was made bankrupt.

The SDT said that while it did not expect “every solicitor to be fully familiar with every section” of the Act, it did expect them to “ensure compliance” as required by the circumstances. Ms Williams “failed to take any steps to consider how her bankruptcy may impinge on her practice”.

Further, the tribunal said the solicitor, eight years qualified at the time, made a “conscious and deliberate decision” not to tell the SRA about the bankruptcy order.

“The public and the profession would rightfully be shocked at her flagrant disregard of her professional obligations by practising without the authorisation of her regulator.”

The tribunal heard that Ms Williams, admitted in 2012, worked as an assistant solicitor at Rohan Solicitors until December 2019.

She was made subject to a bankruptcy order at Exeter County Court in January 2020. The SDT said that a solicitor made subject to an order must either “cease to work forthwith” or apply to the SRA to get their PC reinstated, with or without conditions.

Instead, four days after the order, Ms Williams applied for and secured a locum position at Duncan Morris Solicitors through a recruitment agency, which she held until the end of the year.

In August 2020, she took on a further locum role at Hanne & Co for much of the rest of the year.

The following month, the SRA received an anonymous report from a member of the public stating that Ms Williams had been working for Duncan Morris while bankrupt. She ceased working for both law firms in December 2020.

Back in January 2020, eight days after the order, she had instructed Hanne & Co to act for her in the purchase of a property. She was initially identified as the sole purchaser and at no time during the transaction did she mention her bankruptcy either to Hanne & Co or the seller.

Contracts were exchanged by the solicitor and her partner in October 2020 but the transaction fell through a couple of months later.

In an email to Hanne & Co in January 2021, she said the intention had been for the purchase to be completed in her partner’s name with their funds, so that her own financial position was irrelevant.

“As an experienced conveyancer, Ms Williams must (or at least should) have been aware of the potential relevance of her bankruptcy,” the SRA argued.

Both Hanne & Co and the seller in the failed conveyancing transaction reported Ms Williams to the SRA.

The tribunal found that, by practising without authorisation, Ms Williams had undermined public trust and confidence in the profession.

She had shown a “flagrant lack of integrity” in failing to take any steps to consider how her bankruptcy might “impinge on her practice in circumstances where an automatic suspension was triggered by the statutory framework which governs the profession”.

By failing to inform the SRA of her bankruptcy, she had likewise undermined trust and confidence and shown a lack of integrity.

The tribunal said Ms Williams’ misconduct was aggravated by the fact that it was “deliberate and calculated or repeated” over a period of time and “she sought to conceal it”.

Ms Williams did not engage with the tribunal process or offer any mitigation.

The SDT said she would not be eligible to practise until the bankruptcy had been discharged, when “the onus remained on her” to apply to the tribunal.

The solicitor was suspended indefinitely and ordered to pay costs of £13,350.




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