Suspension for prosecutor who accessed files about ex-wife’s partner

CPS: Solicitor convicted

A former senior Crown prosecutor who was convicted of unlawfully accessing files relating to convictions of his ex-wife’s partner has been suspended from practice.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Scott Ainge “abused his position of trust, authority and responsibility”.

A solicitor since 1997, Mr Ainge had worked at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) since 2004 and was a senior prosecutor in October 2016, the first of two occasions in nine days when he went onto the CPS’s case management system to access a file relating to a criminal conviction of the then partner of his former wife.

In February 2017, he accessed a different file relating to a separate conviction.

The SDT said he “subsequently disclosed the information within the accessed files to individuals outside of the CPS who would not ordinarily have access to such information”.

In December 2020, Mr Ainge was convicted of three counts of unauthorised access to a program or data held in a computer, contrary to the Misuse of Computer Act 1990.

He was sentenced to 20 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and required to undertake rehabilitation activities for 20 days and 100 hours of unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £115.

At the sentencing hearing, the judge at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court described his conduct as “a grave breach of trust” and rejected Mr Ainge’s contention that he was motivated by concern for his younger child.

“I do not doubt that you are a devoted father, but you accessed the information for your own benefit to deploy it in the context of your divorce,” the judge said. “Your mindset was that you wanted to win and you sought access with that aim.”

Further, the judge said, the solicitor’s actions undermined trust and confidence in the CPS, “potentially discouraging engagement with the criminal justice system by witnesses and victims of crime”.

The CPS dismissed him in February 2021.

Before the SDT, Mr Ainge admitted breaching various SRA rules but reiterated that he acted out of concern for the safety of his daughter.

He said the CPS became aware of what he had done in January 2018 but did not suspend him or restrict his access to the CPS system. He was suspended in February 2019, “after he informed the CPS that he had been diagnosed as suffering with stress for which he held the CPS partly responsible given its failure to offer him appropriate support”.

Mr Ainge, who provided several testimonials about his good character, confirmed that he had completed the unpaid work requirement, and was complying with probation.

The SDT said: “He was an experienced solicitor and had abused his position of trust, authority and responsibility as a senior Crown prosecutor…

“His conduct was aggravated by his commission of criminal offences. His actions were deliberate, calculated and repeated over a period of time.”

It recognised that Mr Ainge had “displayed genuine insight into his misconduct and was clearly remorseful”.

The SDT concluded that the seriousness of the misconduct was such “that the public interest required that Mr Ainge’s conduct be marked by a suspension from the right to practise, but did not consider that the protection of the public or the reputation of the profession justified striking him off the roll”.

An 18-month suspension was “the appropriate and proportionate sanction”.

The SDT ordered him to pay £1,000 in costs, reduced from £2,130 due to Mr Ainge’s limited means.

With no secure income, his financial position was “precarious”, it recorded. “Mr Ainge considered that he had no future in the legal profession and so would not be able to replicate the income he had when employed by the CPS.”

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