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SRA defends decision to prosecute ‘bullied’ trainee solicitor whistleblower

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Emily Scott was struck off despite reporting firm’s fraud

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has robustly defended its decision to prosecute a former trainee solicitor for fraud despite a tribunal accepting she’d been “deceived, pressured, bullied and manipulated” into covering up misconduct at her previous firm.

Emily Scott, who left Lincolnshire outfit De Vita Platt Solicitors in November 2014, was struck off the roll after the tribunal found she’d acted dishonestly in matters concerning client funds and that her misconduct was “deliberate, calculated and repeated”. The tribunal dished out the hefty sanction despite the fact Scott was the one to bring the misconduct at the firm to SRA’s attention.

In the wake of the decision, Scott said that she wasn’t “a dishonest person” and felt “terribly let down” by the regulator, adding: “If I hadn’t blown the whistle that company would still be ripping people off.”

Two lawyers who ran the firm, Jonathan De Vita and Christopher Platt, were also struck off for falsifying bills, misappropriating client funds and misleading the regulators.

The SRA’s chief executive, Paul Philip, has now responded to the criticism. Speaking at a media briefing yesterday, Philip said the decision to strike off Scott fell within a range of “reasonable outcomes” for the tribunal, the website Legal Futures reports.

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Philip said: “The issue for us is that here is a junior person in a law firm who has seen criminal activity and felt she couldn’t report it when she worked there, and blew the whistle when she didn’t work there. What would we have expected? We would have expected her as a solicitor of the High Court to have reported the matter. She could have reported it to us on the basis of being a whistleblower.”

Stressing that sanctions are matters for tribunals, not the regulator, Philip continued:

“She had the means to report it confidentially to us and that didn’t happen. That was all considered in the judgment. All we would say is that we expect solicitors to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice. That means that, regardless of how senior you are, you need to think about your professional obligations in the interests of society and the profession.”

As part of the briefing, the SRA revealed it is reviewing its whistleblower’s charter, particularly guidance relating to the reporting of sensitive information and the protections afforded to those who come forward.

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70 Comments

John

Well next time they’ll be no report from a whistleblower and the SRA will have to do their own legwork.

(155)(1)

Anonymous

OK…

I’m gonna repeat this one more time SRA…

Read slowly…

Deep breaths…

Let’s go over this again:

Trainee in firm is unhappy with the way things are run.

Reports to regulator when finished traineeship.

Gets shafted by SRA.

Next time it will be:

Trainee in firm is unhappy with the way things are run.

Knows will be struck off if reports it to the regulator.

Keeps schtum.

Moves firm. Keeps career.

Wrongdoing continues at the firm.

👏 👏 👏 well done SRA!

(109)(1)

Anonymous

Let’s explain this again but for you this time. What should happen is:

Trainee in firm is asked to participate in fraud.

Trainee recognises fraud and reports to SRA.

SRA take no action against trainee because they didn’t participate and reported it.

(In an ideal world) SRA helps trainee to find a new firm.

What actually happened was this:

Trainee is ordered to participate in fraud.

Trainee goes along with fraud and falsifies numerous documents, screwing over clients in the process.

Trainee calls recruiters to look for another job.

Trainee doesn’t think they can get another job so continues to falsify documents.

After getting what they needed and finding another job, trainee reports a criminal conspiracy which they were a part of for two full years.

SRA takes the view that if you’re willing to screw clients out of money and falsify documents because you don’t want to look for another job, you aren’t fit to be a solicitor.

I’ve discussed this with most of my team and literally none of us think she shouldn’t have been struck off, which suggests to me that none of the hysterical comments about this being unfair are from lawyers.

(33)(55)

Anonymous

“Don’t want to look for another job”

That’s where you’re wrong, she was looking for a job and the recruiters in their VAST NUMBER of years of experience advised against it as it’s frowned upon!

Let’s apply the Dishonesty test? Was she willingly participating under pressure, yes. Tort of Negligence on the recruiters

You’re simplifying too much here.

(13)(4)

Anonymous

I don’t know why you think it is helpful to her that she visited recruiters. I think it makes it worse – she realised she was being asked to do unethical things, but chose not to leave because she was told it would be hard for her to get another job. It literally demonstrates that she put her own interest before her clients. Absolute rubbish that recruiters could be liable on negligence – they weren’t advising her about her ethical duties but about her job prospects.

(6)(5)

Anonymous

“If the trainee doesn’t think they can get another job”

I cant believe you used the word think she actually did try and told not to do. I know you’re relying on very rigid principles here.

I do think morality can be used here from Fairchild v Glenhaven. Causation couldn’t be established therefore all employers were liable. Hence recruiters would fall under the remit, as they were also a party and must have had some familiarity of what the lady was going through.

(3)(4)

Anonymous

You still don’t get it.

If you’re in a situation where you have to choose between; 1) defrauding clients; and 2) endangering your career; you have to choose 2) every time if you want to be a solicitor.

The opinions of recruiters are irrelevant. You don’t rely on unregulated recruiters to tell you your professional obligations.

(13)(4)

Anonymous

Why then do the unregulated recruiters work in partnership wanting law graduates with a LPC to only work as paralegals instead of Trainee solicitors doing trainee level work

(2)(3)

Anonymous

Because 1) they’re cheaper 2) expendable and 3) because they just can – market saturation is a b*tch.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Look, it’s great that you have just studied tort law and are excited about imagining how you might have an action in negligence against all the people you don’t like. But cool your jets. You can only be liable in negligence for neglecting to do something *that was within the scope of your duty*. Recruiters may assume a duty to advise you about your career prospects. They definitely don’t assume a duty to advise you about your professional and ethical obligations. So if you rely on their advice in making decisions about the latter, you are not going to have an action against them. HTH.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

You heard of a contract, bro?

Anonymous

How does this have anything to do with whether the trainee in the article should have been struck off?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It doesn’t. This person posts this on any article that gains a lot of comments. Clearly have a bee in their bonnet about something.

Anonymous

“Trainee in firm is unhappy with the way things are run.

“Knows will be struck off if reports it to the regulator.”

Err, no. The point is that you have to report to the regulator promptly, to minimise harm to clients (who are the people being protected by the rules). Not take part in the wrongdoing yourself for a period of months and then wait two years for a good time in your own career before reporting. Of course Scott wouldn’t have been struck off if she reported when she learned of the fraud.

All the sympathy here is for this trainee. But clients aren’t a magic money tree who you can just fleece for all they’re worth. Legal fees are often a major cost for individuals, and involvement in legal difficulties is extremely stressful and confusing for many. If you bill for work not done, you’re not only stealing from people who have put their trust in you, you’re also likely to be ruining their chance of getting the outcome they want. In some cases (eg family law, bankruptcy) this could literally ruin lives.

If you know that a client has been given a bill that has been inflated by 2,000% (an actual eg from this case) then OF COURSE you have to report ASAP, otherwise the client is likely to find themselves in a position where they lose their life savings paying lawyers in legal proceedings which have been hopelessly mishandled, so that they’re in a worse position to when they started (Eg because of red judicata, expiry of limitation or appeal period, heavy costs award etc).

(19)(8)

OP

Not in ideal world:

– Client reports firm at the time. Becomes untouchable. Loses career.

Or

– Client doesn’t report firm at the time but waits until qualified. Gets struck off. Loses career.

Or alternatively:

– Doesn’t report
– Doesn’t get struck off
– Keeps career.

My original point re disincentive to report stands.

👏👏👏👏👏 Another big hand for the SRA!

(20)(5)

Anonymous

You mean trainee not client. Yeah, no one is denying there would be a risk and personal cost to reporting. I don’t think reporting major fraud makes a sol “untouchable” but even assuming you’re correct, the reality is that when you become a solicitor, even a trainee, you take on ethical duties. What you are essentially saying is that lawyers should not have any ethical duties to their clients, but are entitled to put themselves first. Complete rubbish in my view.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Um no she was a trainee not a solicitor and she was learning on the job.

Surely there would have been some accommodation

(10)(1)

Anonymous

Trainees are still subject to the core principles. In any case, she accepted that she knew the behaviour was wrong at the time and that she was under a duty to report it. Nothing to do with her not having enough experience to know that you’re not supposed to bill for work not done.

(0)(3)

Michael Kelly

I am a retired solicitor and remember in about 1973 a trainee being thrown out because he put the ring bit from a ring pull can in a parking meter in London. The two kinks in the rings appeared after this. Lesson at that time any dishonesty however minor and you were out!

(4)(3)

Anonymous

Stunning photo.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

Their response is not unreasonable.

The problem is that they don’t appreciate the harsh reality of whistleblowing. This young lady would have lost her TC as a result of the firm closing without a guarantee she would be able to continue it elsewhere and qualify. That seems to have been the key issue here.

(77)(3)

Anonymous

Completely disagree. They are not saying that they would have expected her to come forward because it would not have had a personal cost to her. They are saying that they would have expected her to come forward because she is a solicitor of the high court with a duty to ensure the administration of justice is carried out. There were measures in place for her to remain anonymous. But yes, in reality, perhaps the firm would have guessed it was her and got rid (illegally). Makes no difference whatsoever.

I have zero sympathy for someone who produced false invoices, faked letters to make it seem as if work had been done, and did so not only to fool clients but also to fool the legal ombudsman. You just can’t have someone who decides she will do all that for the sake of her own career working in a position of trust and administering justice.

I can only assume and hope that the commenters complaining about this decision are not actually working as lawyers. The idea that the code of conduct applies unless and until it is personally disadvantageous is appalling. Don’t work in law if you’re not willing to accept the professional code.

(17)(55)

Anonymous

You’ve clearly never been in a situation where career suicide is a strong possibility. She was between a rock and a hard place. She blew the whistle after she had got out and qualified. It was a protective measure and she should have been allowed to practice with heavy restrictions that prevented her from handling client monies or billing for a long period.

(31)(1)

Anonymous

Sorry, if it’s a choice between defrauding clients and “career suicide” you have to choose the latter. No one is so entitled to a job in law that it’s ok for them to defraud the very people who have put their trust in them and who they have committed to help.

(15)(30)

Anonymous

25 downvotes on a legal website for just stating the facts of the code of conduct. Lol.

(6)(4)

Anonymous

I have also never heard of a solicitor not being allowed to handle client money. That’s one of the basic aspects of the job. And if you can’t be trusted to do that without ripping someone off, why should you be trusted eg to negotiate and enter contracts on behalf of clients, correspond on their behalf etc. The point about being a solicitor is that the job involves a client handing over control over their affairs to you. You just can’t be in that position if it’s acknowledged that you can’t be trusted.

(1)(17)

Anonymous

You clearly haven’t read up on decisions of the SDT where restrictions on monies has been placed on some practicing certificates.

(14)(0)

Anonymous

Ugh, I am the poster you were responding to. Yes, you’re right, I didn’t know that was available. I don’t think I agree with it for the reasons I said – If you can’t be trusted with money, why should you be trusted not to take a bribe or engage in other forms of abuse?

(1)(6)

Peter Pervert

Panties!

(1)(2)

Anonymous

This type of bullying and manipulating trainees is rife in the legal profession.
Trainees live in fear of reprocussions for speaking out hence the corrupt senior fraudsters aka officers of the high court get away with ripping off their trusting clients.
SRA just exacerbated that situation.

(35)(2)

Anonymous

No, the tribunal have just pointed out what was already clear in the code of conduct – “but the boss told me to do it” is not an adequate excuse for defrauding clients, whatever level you are at. If she had refused to take part in fraud or even taken part but reported it in a timely manner then she wouldn’t be in this situation. I get she wanted to qualify, but it’s just not on to say, I want to qualify so much I don’t care if clients are defrauded in the process. That’s the key.

(5)(12)

Anonymous

Well her bosses are saying I don’t give a toss about my regulations, trainees or the high court. How do you justify that. ?? You clearly don’t understand the type of pressure these young trainees are under.
Why should she destroy her career for a bunch of egotistical crooks?
They are not properly addressing the root cause in these cases .

(15)(2)

Anonymous

The bosses were struck off as well, and given a much higher costs penalty (Scott had to pay 1% of the total costs). No one is defending the bosses. As for “destroying her career for a bunch of egotistical crooks”, the problem was that she herself became a crook in the process. That’s what destroyed her career. All lawyers know what their duty to clients is.

(1)(8)

Anonymous

Someone needs to accuse the SRA of sexual assault to bring it down

(5)(6)

Anonymous

“Solicitor of the High Court”? The man is absolutely clueless.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

? It’s a commonly heard expression. I believe technically the title is “solicitor of the senior courts”. But the high court is one of the senior courts, so…

(3)(1)

Anonymous

So what? Solicitors are not ‘Officers of the High Court’ and never have been, and he of all people should know that.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Well they are officers of the court, and of the senior courts in particular. That does make them officers of the high court (among others), right? Even if that language isn’t used in any official material. I really don’t think this is a good hill to die on.

(2)(2)

Solicitor-at-Admin

Deary deary me

(1)(0)

Anonymous

The SRA under Paul Philip has recently shown exceptionally poor judgment:

Pursuing a hopeless appeal against Leigh Day wasting millions of pounds, apparently suffering a temper tantrum that the SDT ‘got it wrong’ first time around;

Prosecuting Mark Lewis without even bothering to ascertain the context of his situation, which was the was defending himself against vile anti-Semitic bullying; and

Prosecuting Emily Scott, a whistleblower, without whom serious and substantial wrongdoing would never have come to light.

Paul Philip should take responsibility for these dreadful decisions and consider his position very carefully.

(26)(1)

Anonymous

I agree on Mark Lewis- the decision to prosecute was bizarre. The Leigh Day appeal- the allegations were so serious and the SRA clearly thought there was something there. Maybe the decision to appeal was poor (I don’t know enough about the case to comment), but it’s good that the Regulator is not afraid to go after big targets like this. It’s better than it being seen to just go for the lowhanging fruit of bent high street sols. Emily Scott – well in her case it appears from the judgment that the fraud would have come out when one client complained to the Legal Ombudsman. Except that Scott helped falsify the firm’s records, including writing fake, backdated letters, so that it seemed to the Ombudsman that work had been done when it hadn’t… I don’t think there was any issue prosecuting her.

(4)(5)

Anon

It was the right result by the SDT given the circumstances.

I don’t know how many of you read the judgment, but it is clear the SDT and the SRA (or their representative) gave her as much credit as they could during hearing and were entirely sympathetic to her plight. Ultimately it was not an easy decision, which you can plainly see, but the right one. To use an extreme, if you are an accomplice in a robbery you can’t get away with the crime simply because you reported the others because you were also involved in the crime.

(2)(12)

Anonymous

Ah no, I don’t agree with your analogy

Why do you think Joint Enterprise is being reformed? Cause it’s unfair

(6)(3)

Anonymous

This is not a case of joint enterprise liability. She literally created fraudulent documents herself and sent them out to clients and the legal ombudsman.

(3)(1)

Mohammed Bello

The SRA are saying that these are strict rules, that you cannot negotiate its interpretation and effect and woe betide those who breach them with their eyes closed. They are saying; do not come to the law with your hands soiled.

(0)(4)

Anonymous

Another stolen article by LC.

Well done Alex and Tommy #arseholes

(4)(2)

Carter Ruck

Stolen from whom, pray tell?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Usually RollonFriday or the Law Society Gazette. I think its called ‘churnalism’.

(0)(0)

HHJ Mungo

Specific allegation requires specific facts, not speculation.

Case dismissed.

With costs.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

I killed every member of my family last night.

What is the latest point at which I can blow the whistle on myself before the SRA consider that too much time has passed for my admission of criminality to be overlooked and/or excused?

(1)(5)

Anonymarmelade

What a senseless comment, a perfect fit for its author.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Pics or it didn’t happen.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Is a trainee solicitor an officer of the Court? Plainly, she should have abide by her professional obligations, but she was a trainee.

Moreover, going forward, the SRA has a real problem. When people have paid, often through amassing significant debt, tens of thousands of pounds to become eligible to be a trainee, and then secured a training contract in an extraordinarily competitive market asking them to throw everything away without any security offered is a tough gig.

It is pretty easy for wealthy successful lawyers sitting in glass towers to pontificate on what a trainee ought to have done. Of course she should have ‘fessed up at the earliest opportunity, we all know that. But is that requirement really reasonable when ‘fessing up could push you further into debt, waste tens of thousands of pounds and cause your own unemployment?

If the SRA wants to get trainees to whistleblow, they need to put their money and contacts where their mouth is – guarantee a replacement training contract for such whistleblowers/settle training debts/or otherwise make provision. A person should not be impoverished for doing the right thing.

(26)(0)

Unpopular opinion - maybe

I think it sucks that she has found herself in that situation.

I do however believe on the rules of the code of conduct it is right she was struck off. Dishonesty offences are viewed very harshly and it is important, however metaphoric the phrase may actually be, that the public are able to trust the legal profession. With all these cowboys about one might suggest that the public already views it poorly but the point still stands.

Career suicide? Yes. Getting a new job first? Advisable. Did she commit fraudulent acts? Yes. Did she deserve to be struck off? however it pains me to say it – yes. The realities are that this will put people off whistleblowing, but the point that people need to take away is don’t do the bad act with them.

(2)(4)

A trainee no more

Show me a trainee who has never back dated a letter after being told to do so by their supervisor and I will show you a liar. It’s rife and as a trainee you can’t speak up. The problem is not trainee but corupt/ inept supervisors.

(25)(1)

Anonymous

Lol what. I’ve never been asked to back date a letter and would refuse if asked. That isn’t normal you moron.

(3)(9)

Anonymous

Yeah, I have never encountered this or heard of this occurring. I’d be really surprised if it is widespread. I can’t imagine how awkward it would be for a supervisor to request this! Plus I think most solicitors do take their duties seriously.

(0)(7)

Anonymous

Well @9.11am. I’m not a moron thanks. I’ve witnessed a grown man ( qualified solicitor in his 40’s) cry because his supervisor called him a c**t in front of the whole office. It was not the first time either and obviously the man in question was utterly humiliated.

I’m glad you’ve had a wonderful experience in your legal career but the rest of us could tell you stories that would make your head spin.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

The fact that you work in a toxic environment does not make this normal. Suggest you look for a new job.

(1)(4)

Anonymous

Yes Dr Mickhead

(3)(0)

Iain

What an interesting dilemma. And good point made by both sides of the debate. Legally yes she should be struck off, she was dishonest and she knew it. But this kind of misses the point. What behaviour do you want to encourage? How many people have done something wrong and covered it up for precisely this reason? What to protect clients? Declare an amnesty for whistle blowers, work with them to protect their careers . Drive out the crooks by making it clear they have no place to hide and anyone can turn them in.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

I suppose UK lawyers still have (perhaps unlike US lawyers) a reputation for integrity.

Perhaps one view is that sadly hard cases like this are necessaty to hit home the message that the very highest standards must be maintained at all times.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Your forgetting what she blew the whistle on and that’s Senior legal professionals expertly ripping off their clients.
It’s the reality of the legal profession. I bet there’s more corrupt firms than their are compliant firms.
SRA should do a series of unannounced audits. There’s no form of quality control in law. It’s a shambles.

(2)(0)

Ecohouse Victim

It is clear that this will lead to more clients being defrauded in future due to whistleblowers being fearful about coming forward to report fraud.

This is NOT acting robustly (Paul Philip’s favourite word), but is a powerful disincentive against solicitors reporting fraud for fear of being implicated, struck off and their careers ruined. The junior solicitor did not contrive the fraud and may not have realised the gravity of changing dates on letters or had any inclination of how much time had been expended on particular client cases to know that over charging was taking place.

In the Ecohouse case one of the respondents was a junior solicitor who was the main client interface, validated escrow release certificates from accountants (supposedly) and coordinated all new investors onto the Ecohouse scheme. This junior solicitor (the daughter of the Ecohouse director) permitted investors to sign up to the scheme despite knowing that :-

+ Development land was not owned by Ecohouse.
+ Client funds were being drawn without any development work taking place.
+ Clients were not receiving returns or their funds back after the 1 year devel. period.
+ Floods of complaints were being received by the firm from clients concerned about their funds being drawn illegitimately.
+ The SRA were investigating the firm.
+ A dispute existed between Ecohouse and the firm.
+ A conflict of interests existed between Ecohouse and the firm.
+ She was in a family conflict of interests with her father.
+ The client account was deficient by several £Million.
+ Investors were being subject to significant risk of financial loss.
+ The firm had reneged on providing legal protection of client funds.
+ The firm had not informed clients they were not providing legal protection.
+ The firm had not advised clients to seek alternative legal advice.
+ Funds were released in the absence of release certificates.

Despite knowing about all of the above, she let new investors join the scheme. It is clear that she didn’t give a damn that clients would suffer loss – at the SDT trial no penalty was brought against her.

In the fullness of time Ecohouse will be proved as a fraud and she will be proved to have assisted fraud (or having committed fraud herself), despite the SRA having no inclination to establish fraud in the case. The SRA are just about the only body that is in denial that Ecohouse was a colossal fraud.

This indicates what a group of duplicitous cheats the SRA were not to allege dishonesty in the original SDT hearing, so none of the solicitors were struck off.

The contrast between the junior solicitors in the two cases is stark, one getting off scot free after her wilful and sustained involvement in fraud, the other being struck off after reporting fraud – it is very unsatisfactory.

This email to Paul Philip concerns the SRA burying evidence of dishonesty in the Ecohouse case :-
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1V7WlysPdzx5eGBx6BUOY0Fg7mdQDYwft/view?usp=drivesdk

(14)(0)

Annonymous

See….no quality control…the legal system is out of control.

(2)(0)

Alex

The SRA and the SDT are a corrupt organisation where money changes hands, and employees can push a case to the SDT for pay offs. Look at the strike offs in the last ten years and its there for everyone to see. Paul Philips needs to take full responsibility for his actions and those of the SRA and RESIGN. Enough said.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Poison dwarf!

(2)(1)

Anonymous

On the Isle of Man, regulatory authorities do not listen to whistleblowers despite overwhelming evidence. They will acknowledge the disclosure then do nothing about it. Furthermore, there is no protection when a disclosure is made, and when the individual is exposed, and they are, it is near impossible for them to gain employment. We have a culture where individuals refuse to whistleblow, “why put my neck on the line”.

(2)(0)

Yessir!

Jenny Holt, is that you?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Jonathan De Vita and Christopher Platt are back in the news today – they are being prosecuted by Trading Standards for matters relating to the non-regulated will-writing company they setup:

https://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/news/-news/de-vita-platt-solicitor-court-2531760

I expect the De Vita Platt storty to get only bigger in the coming months (I am an aggrieved client)

(1)(0)

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