Tribunal ends solicitor’s indefinite suspension after 15 years

SDT: Solicitors showed genuine insight

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has permitted a solicitor it indefinitely suspended 15 years ago to return to practise after he provided “full and comprehensive evidence of training in property law”.

The SDT said Christopher John Coates, who worked as a property consultant in Wales, had undertaken training on an “almost monthly” basis from 2017.

His training record was “sufficiently detailed” for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to drop its initial opposition to his application. “Whilst this was not determinative of the tribunal’s final decision, it was informative,” the panel said.

The SDT said Mr Coates had “established a career in property and was trusted and well respected in that area”. He had been offered a job as a solicitor by his former training partner, meaning that any risk to the public in the future would be “monitored and managed”.

Mr Coates was indefinitely suspended in 2008 after the SDT found that, while working for a Cardiff law firm, he had created a misleading property contract to obtain a loan for a client’s company.

He had also failed to comply with two undertakings to pay stamp duty and solicited loans from the public by “falsely representing the purpose of such loans”.

The solicitor admitted all the allegations against him, apart from dishonesty. The tribunal found that dishonesty had not been proved.

In his application to lift the suspension, Mr Coates said he had been working as a property consultant, using his legal background and understanding of the market to “develop a reputation as an effective and creative problem solver in this industry”.

Mr Coates described his misconduct as “an aberration in his life with devastating consequences”. Reading the tribunal’s findings “once again” had been “painful and uncomfortable” and he “struggled to comprehend how he came to act in the way he did at the time”.

The misconduct occurred “within an isolated period of approximately six months” during 2006, while he was “going through a period of illness that he did not understand at the time”.

He was “still very ill” at the time of his tribunal hearing in July 2008, with medical evidence describing him as “being in a ‘severe depressive state’”.

However, following his suspension, his mental health “improved relatively quickly, and he learned how better to deal with challenging circumstances”.

His suspension “had been a cause of embarrassment to him which he wished to remove particularly as another member of his family was contemplating a career in the legal profession”.

When he made his application, he had no intention to return to practising as a solicitor and was “merely keen to bring the suspension to an end”. However, it had “reawakened his wish to practice”.

Mr Coates said his work as a property consultant “required him to keep up-to-date with changes in property law”. He had attended several conferences aimed at property lawyers and watched many webinars, creating a group for Welsh landlords to help them with changes in landlord and tenant law.

The SRA said the matters giving rise to Mr Coates’ suspension had been “serious”. Having reviewed his training record, the SRA had withdrawn its objection to his application, “subject to the imposition of appropriate restrictions”.

The SDT said the current state of Mr Coates’ health “did not raise cause for concern in the future” and he had demonstrated “genuine insight into, and remorse for, his misconduct”.

The tribunal granted the application by Mr Coates for determination of his indefinite suspension and imposed conditions on his practicing certificate, to apply for two years, preventing him from being the sole owner of a law firm, a partner or member or a compliance officer, and requiring any job he obtained to be approved by the SRA.

He was ordered to pay costs of £1,859.

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