Trainee sanctioned for trying to mislead third party

SRA: Agreements mean no tribunal referrals

A trainee solicitor who amended a document in order to mislead a third party has been rebuked and banned from working in the profession without the permission of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Accepting a so-called section 43 order from the regulator, Thomas David Barnes said he has learnt from the experience and would not repeat it.

Mr Barnes, a trainee at MJP Conveyancing in Norwich, works in the exchange and completions team.

According to a regulatory settlement agreement – which means he will not face a disciplinary tribunal – the firm was instructed to act in the purchase of a leasehold property.

As part of the post-completion formalities, Mr Barnes had to serve a notice of assignment – once signed by the managing agent – on the landlord, informing it of the change in ownership.

Mr Barnes did this, but the landlord then told him that the notice contained the wrong name for the new owner.

Instead of redrafting the notice, having it signed and then re-serving it, Mr Barnes amended the owner’s name on the receipted copy of the original notice and served it directly on the landlord.

The agreement recorded: “The landlord noticed the discrepancy in the dates on the notice and queried it with Mr Barnes and the firm. When the firm asked Mr Barnes about it, he denied having amended the original notice and claimed that it had been backdated by the managing agent.

“The firm investigated the matter further and Mr Barnes later accepted that he had amended the notice.

“The firm issued Mr Barnes with a formal and final written warning. A new notice was drafted, signed by the managing agents and then served on the landlord. No detriment was caused to either party to the transaction.”

Mr Barnes admitted that his conduct lacked integrity and was dishonest.

The SRA said the section 43 order was appropriate because this made it “undesirable for him to be involved in a legal practice”, while the rebuke reflected that “the conduct was deliberate and had the potential to mislead others”.

The agreement added: “The agreed outcome is a proportionate outcome in the public interest because a rebuke marks the seriousness of Mr Barnes’s conduct but recognises that there was no lasting significant harm to consumers or third parties.”

Meanwhile, in another agreement at the other end of the career spectrum, a retired solicitor has agreed to remove his name from the roll, not seek to be readmitted in the future or ever work for a law firm again over a host of breaches while running Bristol law firm David Lees & Co.

Christopher Parker, who qualified in 1973 and is 75, sold the firm last year. But shortly before then, the SRA began an investigation into the firm following a qualified accountant’s reports.

This established that the firm had had a cash shortage of £131,847 in its client account for over 18 months that was caused by Mr Parker making an overpayment to a client whilst conducting a property transaction.

The client failed to return the money but Mr Parker only replaced the money once the SRA investigation began.

The regulator also found that Mr Parker had failed to carry out regular reconciliations of his client account between 2014 and 2018 – he was required to do so every five weeks but had only carried out eight over the period, and they were not compliant with the rules anyway. Mr Parker’s books of accounts were also found to be inaccurate.

Further failures were delays in completing the administration of two probate estates. In one, he delayed in the payment of residual legacies to beneficiaries for eight years, while in the other, he failed to make any enquiries to locate beneficiaries for over four years.

Mr Parker also provided inaccurate information in his 2017 professional indemnity proposal form.

In mitigation, Mr Parker said he tried on a number of occasions to retrieve the overpayment but was unsuccessful, while “the pressure of work and other matters intruded and prevented him from dealing with the client account shortage swiftly and effectively”.

He similarly struggled with maintaining the accounts, but accountants he instructed to carry out full reconciliations had not found any serious issues.

He accepted that he did not fill out the insurance form correctly, which he said was “caused by a failure to understand the questions being asked of him because of the terminology in the form”, and said he had made good his failures in the probate estates.

“He has transferred his business to another firm of solicitors, has retired and has no intention of returning to practise as a solicitor,” the agreement noted.

“The SRA considers that the undertakings given in this agreement constitute a proportionate outcome to these proceedings in light of Mr Parker’s admissions and mitigation.”

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