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Solicitor struck off after losing work briefcase launches appeal crowdfunder

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Claire Louise Matthews now has a pro bono legal team after going unrepresented at disciplinary hearing

A newly qualified solicitor who was controversially struck off over a lost work briefcase is crowdfunding to cover the costs of an appeal.

Claire Louise Matthews had no lawyer in her corner when she was booted out of the profession by a disciplinary tribunal, but now has a crack legal team acting pro bono.

She’s trying to raise money to cover the whopping costs that could result if the case goes against her. Matthews, formerly of Capsticks, already faces a costs bill of £10,000 from the initial disciplinary tribunal.

The young lawyer was just a few weeks qualified when, in May 2018, she lost a work briefcase containing confidential documents.

As Legal Cheek reported earlier this month, her fate was sealed when she tried to stall for time, telling colleagues that the briefcase was at home. Matthews came clean 24 hours later, but a disciplinary tribunal agreed with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that dishonesty in a solicitor was unpardonable.

The case struck a chord with fellow junior lawyers who felt that being struck off for a lapse of judgement was way over the top — especially compared with the minor sanctions often handed out to lawyers convicted of full-on criminal offences.

When the Law Society Gazette reported the story the following day, it was inundated by offers of pro bono help for an appeal. Matthews represented herself at the disciplinary tribunal, whereas the SRA instructed Fieldfisher and an experienced barrister with a double first from Cambridge.

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She now has Leigh Day and two barristers from Deans Court Chambers in her corner, according to the website, although all the money raised will go towards costs and not for legal fees.

But even without legal fees, appeals don’t come cheap — particularly in the High Court. Matthews is trying to raise £40,000 to cover any costs order against her if the appeal fails.

Writing on a GoFundMe page, Matthews explains that “in addition to the costs ordered against me in the Tribunal of £10,000, if my appeal is unsuccessful, I could be ordered to pay the SRA’s costs of responding to the appeal”.

If she wins or there’s a surplus, the proceeds will go to legal mental health charity LawCare.

Matthews, who is now working for an NHS 111 centre, told the tribunal of her own mental health struggles following the briefcase incident, which tragically extended to “drinking bleach in an attempt to end her life”.

She now says “I feel it is important that this appeal is seen through so as to help highlight mental health in the legal profession and the devastating effect it can have when it impacts on careers”.

Feeling stressed? You can contact LawCare by calling 0800 279 6888 in the UK.

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23 Comments

Anon

Good on her! Absolutely atrocious decision

(168)(2)

UNJUST

UNJUST
Apr 22 2020 4:26pm
Doesnt seem like there any solicitors who are going to stand up and be counted when it comes to taking action about the blatant improper conduct of the SRA or SDT but it looks like others might!
https://www.change.org/p/national-crime-agency-uk-justice-is-broken-call-for-an-urgent-investigation-by-the-national-crime-agency

(14)(6)

Realist

Tin foil hat, much?

(0)(0)

Chud

Let’s help her to afford the best legal team possible. In fact, maybe by reaching out on Twitter we could get some people to represent her pro bono (I learned that phrase from Better Call Saul, it’s Latin). Imagine if she had the likes of Jo Maugham QC in her corner.

(16)(15)

Stephen

It says, indeed at the very top of the article, that she has a pro bono legal team, so why would she want you, who did not know what the phrase meant until you saw it on the telly, to “reach out” on Twitter?

(15)(4)

Anon

Whoosh

(28)(0)

Anonymous

Hope Beckwith does the same.

(9)(6)

EdwarddeProBono

Now that the appeal had been lodged, it would be good if Legal Cheek could ask the SRA the following:

1. How much compensation did the SRA pay to X for the loss of the personal data?

2. Has that amount been recovered by the SRA from Capsticks?

3. Did the SRA ask X to sign a non-disclosure agreement in relation to the compensation payment?

4. Was the loss of the personal data reported to the ICO? What was the outcome?

5. What was the outcome of X’s claim against the SRA for failing to deal with her original subject access request?

6. Has the SRA recovered from Capsticks any of the extra costs which the SRA incurred in the SDT as a result of Capsticks being conflicted?

(55)(0)

Anon

Lol have you ever read LC before? That sounds like proper journalism. Unless the answers to those questions are on a twitter thread about dogs that look like famous judges that Eve puts in a vlog it ain’t going to be here.

(35)(0)

EdwarddeProBono

Yes – I’m inviting LC to do some proper journalism, by putting pertinent questions to the SRA and publishing the SRA’s response (which will almost certainly be highly evasive). I’m sure Mr McKinney is more than capable of that.

(6)(0)

Anon

He is but they’re all ruled by the evil overlord Alex, who abandoned journalism in favour of a quick buck for puff pieces on legal bloggers and third rate law firms.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

The powers that be talk the talk about mental health, but when it comes to the crunch they hammer those who need help.

(24)(1)

Steve-o

I bet the SRA are beginning to quake now that Leigh Day have come back for another piece of flesh.

(20)(0)

Anon

At the risk of courting controversy – the costs order is clearly excessive given her means and the whole matter has been handled horribly by the SRA from start to finish, but being struck off for dishonesty is surely still the correct outcome here.

(8)(24)

UNJUST

Doesnt seem like there any solicitors who are going to stand up and be counted when it comes to taking action about the blatant improper conduct of the SRA or SDT but it looks like others might!
https://www.change.org/p/national-crime-agency-uk-justice-is-broken-call-for-an-urgent-investigation-by-the-national-crime-agency

(7)(6)

Bravo

The Inns of Court can provide pro bono help from barristers for students experiencing abuse from other students on the BPTC or at legal tribunal charities.

It’s one thing to virtue signal on Twitter. It’s quite another to step in and actually help people who need it.

(3)(6)

SRA are bellends

The SRA make me sick. Overly idealistic and unrealistic. Just a bunch of bitter failed lawyers and graduates that couldn’t get a TC.

(27)(0)

EdwarddeProBono

The problem is that she will probably lose the appeal, because the finding of dishonesty was justified and the SDT was not obviously wrong to conclude that there were no exceptional circumstances. The High Court almost always defers to the supposed “expertise” of the SDT.

The SDT should be asking itself how it can address the inequality of arms between a respondent and the SRA. PI policies used to cover the cost of defending proceedings in the SDT, but the SRA conveniently (for itself) removed that element from the minimum terms of insurance cover. So you end up with junior (and senior) solicitors trying to defend themselves against the might of the SRA, in a tribunal which has a conviction rate of more than 90%.

Solicitors should be asking why the Law Society has not put in place a scheme which ensures that respondents have access to representation. No other profession would expect its members to go into a serious disciplinary hearing without proper representation.

(34)(0)

UNJUST

The SRA are part of the Law Society and are paid in full by them.. Only this week that they have announced that the SRA are to become a separate legal entity.(which confirms that they have not been fully independent to date)
The SRA have acted improperly in many cases and there is clear documented evidence of them making knowingly false statements for reasons best known to themselves.
Most Legal professionals do not encounter the SRA and therefore only become aware of their improper actions when a case like that of Claire Louise Matthews is reported and it is very positive that she is getting the support she rightly deserves.
I believe that most solicitors are honest and decent people but the lack of action to hold to account the SRA and Law Society for their improper actions and their failure to act when dishonest solicitors are exposed is diminishing the Public Trust in the Legal Profession.
See the hundreds of complaints https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.sra.org.uk

(10)(0)

Lord Harley

Just make sure they don’t schedule the hearing for your birthday

(10)(0)

Geof

It is obvious that extreme embarrassment had the understandable effect of slowing the revelation of the circumstances of the loss.All dialogue was internal and informal and the correct statement was made in a commendably short time. To call this dishonest is itself dishonesty.

(2)(1)

Senior legal professional

I couldn’t agree more

(8)(0)

Casting stones

It is extremely important to focus on the fact that : “All dialogue was internal and informal and the correct statement was made in a commendably short time.” There was no misleading of a Court, a client or (dare I even say it) the High and Mighty Regulator.

This was a very young and clearly terrified lawyer who made a miscalcuation due to ongoing panic. Very stupid mistake, in fact a serious mistake. But a mistake nonetheless. She could yet develop into an effective and valuable lawyer and put all this behind her. She seems to be truly sorry. Is there not a human falibility dimension to all of this? Dare I say, some humanity? Some mercy?

The conclusion and sanction of the Tribunal was self-evidently disproportionate, unfair and grotesque! To destroy her life. Was this truly proportionate for what she did? Really?

(11)(1)

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