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JLD: Think again before prosecuting vulnerable lawyers

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Open letter urges SRA to review approach where mental health or toxic working environments play role in alleged misconduct

The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has urged the regulator to think twice before prosecuting vulnerable solicitors who have mental health issues or have been working in toxic environments.

In an open letter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the JLD expressed its concern over the recent decision to strike off a junior lawyer who lost a work briefcase containing sensitive client files, and then lied about it for 24 hours to colleagues.

Legal Cheek reported last month that Claire Louise Matthews was booted out of the profession following the incident, despite revealing a history of mental health problems.

The ex-Capsticks lawyer has since launched a crowdfunding campaign in a bid to overturn the decision.

The JLD’s letter goes on to draw comparisons between Matthew’s case and that of Sovani James, a former junior lawyer who was struck off in 2018 for forging legal documents in an attempt to show that a client’s case was progressing. At the time, the tribunal heard claims that James’ “toxic and uncaring” firm had adopted a “sudden focus on financial return on employees”.

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This was followed last year by the case of Emily Scott, a former trainee solicitor who was struck off for fraud despite the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) accepting that she’d been “deceived, pressured, bullied and manipulated” by a senior lawyer at her former firm.

The letter, addressed to the SRA’s chief executive, Paul Philip, says the “prosecutions have shaken our [JLD] faith in the SRA’s judgement to the point where we do not have confidence in its approach to regulatory matters involving junior lawyers who have mental health issues and/or have been working in toxic environments”.

The JLD warns the severe sanctions are “likely to deter individuals from disclosing wrongdoing for fear that they will be struck off, landed with a heavy costs order and receive significant negative publicity”.

It continues:

“In short, the SRA’s recent approach to such matters runs the risk of mistakes being concealed, for fear of disproportionate sanction. This poses a commensurate risk to clients if mistakes are not admitted to and rectified, which defeats the purpose of regulation.”

Rounding off its letter, the group urges “the SRA to immediately review its approach to prosecuting junior lawyers where mental health or a toxic working environment could have impacted on any alleged misconduct, with a view to developing a proportionate framework which junior lawyers can have confidence in once more”.

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Read the JLD’s letter in full below:

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