The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has rejected an application for restoration to the roll from an ex-solicitor whom it had sanctioned three times and was once convicted of fraud.
The SDT said Bryan Howard Lewis, who removed himself from the roll in 1992, had disregarded an order imposed by the tribunal by working for three different law firms without the permission of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
It rejected Mr Lewis’s argument that it was his employers’ responsibility to secure permission and said he had provided “no documentary evidence” of any training he had undertaken since coming off the roll.
The tribunal heard that Mr Lewis, admitted in 1978, was first reprimanded by the SDT in 1981 after admitting breaches of the accounts rules and misusing client account, leading to a shortfall of over £13,000.
He was back before the tribunal in 1988, when he admitted a series of rule breaches, including failing to transfer files to newly instructed solicitors, failing to comply with a Law Society direction, breaches of the accounts rules and misuse of client account. He was fined £2,000.
Mr Lewis removed himself from the roll in 1992 on the grounds of ill health. He pleaded guilty to ‘making a false instrument’ at Nottingham Crown Court in January 1993, having “falsely stated on a passport application that he had known the individual for two years when in fact he had not”.
The solicitor was made subject to a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay prosecution costs.
The SDT said he failed to mention the conviction at his third disciplinary hearing, in May 1993, when he did not challenge allegations of breaches of the accounts rules, resulting in a shortfall of over £567,000, and failing to comply with professional undertakings.
The tribunal ordered that Mr Lewis should not be restored to the roll in future without its permission.
Mr Lewis did disclose his criminal conviction when he applied for restoration to the roll in 1997.
The SDT rejected the application, on the grounds that it was premature and because, if he had not voluntarily removed himself from the roll, he was “likely to have been struck off” in 1993 given the “significant shortage” on client account.
According to a chronology of events provided by Mr Lewis, he was made bankrupt in 1993, with the bankruptcy order discharged in 1996.
Since 1993, he has been employed in fee-earner roles by several different law firms but did not obtain SRA permission to do so for three of them, as the 1993 tribunal had required.
He told the tribunal that he did not accept that he should have ensured that those employers obtained permission.
His most recent role, since 2016, has been as a business development consultant at Ackroyd Legal, with the SRA’s permission.
Mohamed Ahmed, chief executive of Ackroyd, described Mr Lewis at the tribunal hearing as “fantastic and very competent”.
Counsel for the SRA, which opposed the application for restoration, asked Mr Ahmed why his firm’s website had advertised Mr Lewis as a ‘senior solicitor’.
Mr Ahmed replied that it was an “IT error” which lasted for only four to six weeks. He said Mr Lewis would be treated as a newly qualified for at least a year were his right to practise restored.
The tribunal found that Mr Lewis’s failure to ensure he had permission to work at all times “undermined his assertion of rehabilitation and was demonstrative of further regulatory non-compliance”.
The SDT also pointed to his attempt to blame personal circumstances and the legal advice received for pleading guilty to the criminal offence, as well as “ambiguous information” provided to Companies House about his status as a solicitor in relation a company he had created, Plantation Legal Services.
This indicated that Mr Lewis had “little insight into his previous failings, was unable to accept responsibility for the same, demonstrated no remorse and held no contrition”.
The tribunal went on: “The applicant had been subject to three sets of regulatory proceedings resulting in shortfalls in client accounts of many hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“The applicant had admitted dishonesty at the Crown Court. The tribunal noted, with some concern, that the applicant had made no efforts to make good the shortfalls in client accounts despite having been discharged from bankruptcy in 1996.”
The SDT refused the application for restoration to the roll was refused and ordered Mr Lewis to pay costs of £3,000.