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Solicitor hit with £54,000 costs bill after failing to overturn £2,000 SRA fine

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Family lawyer behind ‘incompetent idiot’ emails had ‘lost perspective’, tribunal says

An experienced solicitor who was slapped with a £2,000 fine by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been ordered to cough up a whopping £54,000 in costs after her attempt to have the decision overturned failed.

Donna Cannon, a family law specialist, told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) the regulator’s investigation into her alleged misconduct was “tainted” and “relentlessly aggressive”. Moreover Cannon — who chose to represent herself — said evidence that may have supported her case had been ignored and accused the SRA of being “biased”.

In July 2016, the regulator’s adjudicator found five allegations of misconduct against Cannon proven. She had admitted one charge in connection with an email she sent to her bank relationship manager calling him “dishonest” and an “incompetent idiot”, but denied others relating to, among other things, Facebook posts and emails concerning ex-colleagues and other solicitors.

At the time the misconduct took place, Cannon was working for Principal Law Partnership in Hampshire, before taking up a consultancy role at Karen Mackie Solicitor. Cannon was eventually fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,350. Cannon appealed.

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At the appeal hearing, the SRA, represented by Fountain Court Chambers‘ James McClelland, argued that the original fine was fair and did not impede on Cannon’s ability to continue practising as a solicitor. And, much to Cannon’s cost, the SDT agreed.

In a lengthy judgment published this week, the tribunal claimed that Cannon had “lost perspective” and “pursued an appeal which appeared hopeless given that there was no evidence to suggest any unfairness or bias” in the process. Continuing, the tribunal suggested that Cannon had “fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the allegations she had faced” and “on many occasions, made submissions which were not supported by documents where there were documents in support”. Her skeleton argument also “appeared to raise issues which were not part of the grounds”, the SDT said.

On the hefty £54,000 costs bill, the tribunal noted that the work carried out by the regulator’s solicitors, London law firm Bevan Brittan, was done so at “a very reasonable rate, encompassing the work of senior solicitors and more junior staff”. The tribunal added:

“Given the care needed in dealing with [Cannon], as she had added considerably to the complexity of the appeal, and the volume of documents involved, the tribunal considered that the time spent and work done was reasonable for a matter of this kind.”

The SDT also decided counsels’ fees were “reasonable” for the work done.

The tribunal dismissed Cannon’s appeal, save as regards the allegation of lack of integrity, and ordered her to pay £54,015 in costs. The decision is open to appeal.

Read the judgment in full below:

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14 Comments

Anonymous

What an awful way to start the year!!!

(0)(0)

SingaporeSwing

She represented herself.

Someone who had a fool for a client…

(5)(4)

Anon

Or perhaps a fool for a judge, as the case may be.

Hope she appeals this excessive and disproportionate charge.

(1)(8)

Anonymous

Hi Donna. Good luck with that!

(17)(4)

Anon

Thanks Jacqueline, I’m sure you mean it.

I’m not Donna, but its not luck she needs, merely a judgement which grasps the concept of proportionality and understands that any costs award in this case isn’t supposed to be punitive.

(6)(4)

Donna's client

Get a reality check, firstly they only go for the vulnerable. Secondly, if you read the judgement you will see that the SRA stood by while her business partner laundered all of her capital whilst they were supposed to be monitoring the firm, why do you think the SRA needed to discredit her so much, they left all the clients uninsured

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Sheesh

The tribunal and the lawyers from the sra, Bevan britten and fountain court have pushed through the pleas of these proceedings have made me ill and will cause me to file for bankruptcy and still applied for their costs of approx 29k for solicitors at 145 ph and 25 k for a 3 day trial and some case management hearings.

The lines of help I can see are that the applicant did succeed on 1 ground out of 5.

She can argue

How much of the regulators costs were needed to fight that one ground, and deduct that sum.

Her own costs for that ground are X, and deduct that sum.
But the lesson to us all is crowd fund or do not mess with the dynastic middle class.
How likely was it that a panel would overrule an adjudicator at the wish of a litigant in person, when the adjudicator is being defended by fountain court ?

When you plea for mercy they will make submissions to try and ensure that the costs liability extends until after any bankruptcy order has discharged, or whatever the expression is.

(2)(5)

Robert Letch

This ruling by the SDT has been removed from their website due to the amount of factual errors contained within the judgement…. this article based on that publication contains the same factual errors and therefore should be withdrawn as the SDT have on their own web site.

(2)(3)

Donna Cannon

This is my case. The SDT have now removed the judgement. The SRA came at me with 18 allegations, not 10 as the judgement states, it withdrew 15 after I submitted 300 pages of irrefutable documentary evidence in my Response in July 2015, evidence which the SDT state that there was no doubt this evidence was credible. The withdrawn allegations were incredibly serious, including dishonesty and misleading the court. The irrefutable evidence was that the source of allegations, the same source in all, had lied to the SRA and produced ‘unreliable’ documentation. The remaining 4 allegations, all but one from the same source, went to the Adjudicator (the fifth being added without an opportunity for me to comment). The SRA had sent me hard copies of documentation throughout with one exception, the bundle of papers they had “selected” as being “relevant” to go before the Adjudicator, those documents, 100s of pages, they scanned and sent to me attached to a series of emails. I immediately informed the SRA the scans were “illegible”. As a sole practitioner I had limited time and resources. I therefore looked at the index for the papers and printed off only the documents that originated from them, I did not print off the documents that originated from me as I had the originals. The index stated the bundle contained “Ms Cannon’s Response of July 2015. It remains to be seen what amendments, if any, the SDT will make to the Judgement but there can be no doubt that the evidence they describe as credible that led them to find the source unreliable in respect of 15 extremely serious allegations would be relevant to whether the source was credible in respect of the remaining allegations. On receipt of the Adjudicator’s findings I was astounded she made no reference to the evidence at all and I appealed on that basis. On receipt of my appeal I was then sent the actual bundle that when before the Adjudicator. It was only then that I realised that NONE of the 300 pages of my evidence had been before the Adjudicator. What had been before the Adjudicator was more than 300 pages of documents from the SRA of which only TWELVE related to the remaining allegations, all of the others relayed the other allegations which the SRA had already determined was wholly unreliable.

This meant that I had to seek leave to amend my appeal based on the non-disclosure of relevant material and the disclosure on non-relevant material that was extremely prejudicial with no probative value whatsoever.

The SDT found that it was “wholly unbelievable” that I relied on the description of a document being “Ms Cannon’s Response of July 2015” as being just that as I would have been alerted to the page numbers being consistent with it being only my covering letter had been included.

For those that do not know, as I learned the hard way, this is not a bundle in the normal sense the the word. There is no hearing, there is no solicitor participation, the SRA have full discretion on what they include and what they consider to be relevant. As such there was no reason whatsoever I would need to construct a bundle or reference the page numbers in the usual way a solicitor would.
Why on earth would I print off what I thought would be 300 pages of illegibly scanned documents when I had the originals?
Why would the SRA describe the covering letter to my Response of July 2015 as the Response itself?
Why would I not want the documents before the Adjudicator, the “credible” documents that had “led to the SRA withdrawing the majority, and the most serious allegations, the documents that evidenced that the source had a propensity to mislead the SRA?
Why would the SRA tell me in writing, on 3 separate occasions, that I only had an internal right of appeal which would never have resulted in me receiving a hard copy of the bundle?
Why would I draft the grounds of appeal on the basis the documents had been included and not considered on the off chance the SDT may give me leave to amend the grounds to procedural unfairness?

The SDT, who infer my defence of this matter was relentless, do not state what they consider my motive might have been for not wanting to put in any defence evidence whatsoever.

Anyone that has been through this process will understand why I overlooked that the page numbering of the bundle. The SRA had accused me of serious allegations without cause and without cogent evidence. This process went on for over a year. This delayed my authorisation, left me unemployed for nearly a year and placed me in a financial position where I lost my home had no choice but to be “the fool that represented myself” as someone very kindly commented above. I then developed depression, an immunity disorder and self-harmed whilst I tried to defend merit less allegations that would have ended my career with no access to any papers because of the SRA’s delay in putting the allegations to me. What I find “wholly unbelievable” is that ignoring the page numbers in the index is the only error I made.

The only reason the SDT could think of for the SRA not providing a hard copy of the bundle, which would have remedied any misunderstanding, was that I “had moved to Wales” so they didn’t know where to send it. That was something that was not in evidence EVER, and it wouldn’t be, I didn’t “move to Wales” until 9 months later.

The SDT then claimed they had reviewed the documents in any event to see if it would have made a difference and they disclosed not as they implied I lied to another solicitor about “moving to a larger firm” and not “having access to client papers”. They did this without putting the question to me, had they done so, as was clear in the documents they claimed to have “reviewed” they were looking at the size of a later firm I moved to and I could not retrieve any document retained or created electronically on the practice management system.

In respect of the prejudicial papers before the Adjudicator they simply state “this was unfortunate” and they could have been “redacted”.

I also made it clear to the SDT, which is barely mentioned in the judgement that when you are a sole practitioner you have no choice but to appeal any finding of lack of integrity or risk intervention and bankruptcy and it is that finding that I succeeded on.

In respect of costs, as confirmed in the Judgement, I was unable to hear anything during the hearing by telephone, I informed the SDT of this repeatedly. Despite this they did not reset the conference call, they continued and made costs in the absence of any outline of their reasons and in the absence of me being able to effectively participate. In part, their costs seem to be based on the number of documents that it was “unfortunate” the SRA included.

Nothing within the Judgement relating to the evidence of DI Wood is reported correctly in the judgement. Where the SDT state that DI Wood state was a fabricated document his actual evidence was that he had received complete disclosure of the documents via a PACE Order, it would have included the document, it did not include the document and if it had of done he would have remembered as the information within it was false.

He also stated that the SRA had disclosed confidential information to the source of the allegations about the the timing and nature of her pending arrest which hampered the police investigation and as a result he had to insist the SRA signed the Official Secrets Act before he would share any information with them thereafter.

He also stated that the SRA were on notice that funds were at risk, they failed to “monitor” the firm as they had represented and caused my funds to be lost. He said the source of the allegations had lied to the police and the SRA about me to try and justify her unlawful obstruction of my from my own firm, he said the SRA knew that.

A few weeks after the SDT hearing an order was made by the Central London County Court that at the time the SRA stood back and permitted my obstruction from the management and finances of my firm I had every right to both. As such the COLP was unauthorised, the firm was unauthorised and all of my clients suffered harm. These are vulnerable clients that formally complained to the SRA time and again that they had lost money, their confidentiality had been breached, they felt threatened and harassed. who were they complaining about, the source. The SRA ignored their complaints. What solicitor who did not care about their profession and more importantly their clients wold not be “impassioned” about the SRA’s conduct.

They have 1 objective, to protect clients. They have 3 statutory principals, to carry out their duties in a way that is:
Proportionate
Transparent
Consistent

What was the deal they struck with the source for them to provide information on other solicitors where they knew there was a conflict of interest, they knew had no merit and led to so many clients suffering harm. We will never know as the SRA’s position, confirmed by the SDT is that there is no requirement for their actions to be proportionate, transparent or consistent.

For the avoidance of doubt, the reason that the SDT, who did not believe it was possible for me to make an error when reading the index and it was not possible for the SRA would overlook a request to send a hard copy of the bundle, have temporarily removed the judgement, is that they sent the judgement to the wrong address which is why they published it before I had a chance to comment on the facts as recorded hence they have subsequently withdrawn it to consider the errors.

(4)(4)

Anon

Well done Donna, brave of you to speak out about this.

In my view, the SDT have thrown the kitchen sink at you and lost control of their costs in the process.

The costs award is clearly disproportionate, and if, as you say, you were unable to hear the submission on costs, you would have not been given proper opportunity to make your argument.

This type of decision, particularly relating to costs, and ironically given the regulator’s role, damages public perception of the law and I hope that you successfully appeal it. I can’t see how a fair judgement would allow such a costs order to stand, given proportionality, the relative lack of complexity and the fact that much of the costs appear to relate to administrative, rather than legal, work.

Good luck.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

This is really interesting.

It suggests that the judgement I read on scribd via legal cheek was a draft judgment that someone had written for the panel to sign off then, doesn’t it ? They perhaps thought it was a fully prepared text rather than a starter and let it go straight out.

An honest panel member with professional skill would not have typed up such a document themselves, from what you are saying.

I have often wondered if there are Skelton judgments circulated in a case as well as skeleton arguments.

I think you should try and crowd fund or justice fund.

There was a comparable case to yours on 30 October 2016.

A client of a solicitor called attwell was deadly critical and the sra brought proceedings against a.

The cost of the sra case was 85k for a planned 4 day hearing.

Gregory treverton Jones qc of one of the Essex street chambers represented a. He managed to get the case thrown out on the basis that the prosecution was vindictive and pursued with exaggerated vigour. The sra had, if I recall, arbitrarily believed everything the client said.

A s qc showed the complainer wasn’t actually a client and , if I recall, had an axe to grind

You can Google it. John Hyde covered it in the Gazette I think. Try him too.

If treverton qc would take your call to help you it would be an excellent precedent on which to try and mount an appeal. The sra soppisedly regreted its conduct, they told thr press.

Legal Cheek did not cover it.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

I notice that the Gazette have now removed their comments, just when Ms Cannon has put her side and a number of individuals have commented in her favour. From what I could see there was nothing that would affect the judgment when it came. It was acceptable for her to be criticised but when she chose to defend herself and when others chose to spoke out about the SRA it was unacceptable. So once again she is silenced. I commented that the SRA should regulate with principle and should have in mind the protection of the public and the interst of justice. I do not think that is a controversial position to take and it is a good starting point for the SRA in my most humble opinion. I mean David Middleton has been subject to a press release from the SDT. The whole organisation needs to be reviewed urgently and those at the Cube need to take their heads out of the sand and sort this mess out. Is there no one there capable of sorting out this organisation. Start with the supervision department. Send out a questionaire to those you have investigated and then read their answers with an open mind and not from a defensive position. There I have made a suggestion that you would have paid a consultant good money for.

(1)(1)

Wood

Ms Cannon sounds like she has completely lost the plot to and has tripped herself up with a mountain of lies and chasing clearly what is a personal vendetta against her former business partner. I wouldn’t be surprised of most of the Anon comments supporting her where in fact written by herself.

What a complete and utter waste of time and resources for everyone. Life is too short.

How are people supposed to trust the legal profession with such dishonesty being practised.

(1)(3)

Anon

Hmm, an anonymous commenter criticising other commenters for commenting anonymously. Very strange…

There’s something odd about this case. Clearly the costs award is disproportionate, and from what Donna says she wasn’t even given a chance to question it. The whole approach to the hearing, from Donna’s account, seems strange to me, there does appear to be an element of her being made an example of, and then there is the matter of the SDT’s ruling disappearing from its website, apparently because it was inaccurate. I hope Donna successfully appeals the decision – she clearly has her supporters.

I made some of the previous anonymous comments and no, I’m not Donna, nor do I know her. She has posted a comment under her own name, so I don’t see why she would post further comments anonymously pretending to be someone else. Yet for some reason people are suggesting that Donna is posting comments anonymously purporting to support herself. There is something odd about this case.

It is the handling of this case and the exorbitant costs award which will reduce public trust in the legal profession, not two former business partners falling out.

(2)(1)

Comments are closed.

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