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SRA defends decision to prosecute junior lawyer who lost work briefcase

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Claire Louise Matthews has lodged appeal against strike off

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has hit back at criticism over its decision to prosecute a junior lawyer who left a briefcase containing sensitive client files on a train.

In a letter to the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), the regulator’s chief executive Paul Philip said he was “satisfied” that its handling of the case was appropriate.

Legal Cheek reported last month that Claire Louise Matthews was just a few weeks out of her training contact when, in May 2018, she lost a briefcase and then lied about it to colleagues for 24 hours.

The tribunal heard how the former Capsticks lawyer battled mental health problems in the wake of the incident, which culminated in her “drinking bleach in an attempt to end her life”.

Matthews was eventually struck off following a four-day hearing and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs, despite now working at a call centre earning just £9 an hour.

“We recognise the impact regulatory proceedings can have on the health of the individual concerned, and this is obviously an issue of great concern to us,” wrote Philip. “We need to balance carefully the public interest against the interests of the individual.”

He continued: “We are able to adapt our procedures, and apply reasonable adjustments, where appropriate — and to consider alternative means of disposal where an individual is not well enough to participate, or participate fully, in tribunal proceedings. These considerations involve us taking case by case decisions, guided by the evidence, to ensure any action we take is both fair and proportionate, and protects the public interest.”

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“In this case, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that this is not about a solicitor leaving a briefcase on a train, but that the evidence of her colleagues was that she lied to them on a number of occasions about the matter,” the SRA chief wrote, adding:

“[N]either a person’s junior position, nor health, will be an answer where the person has been found guilty of culpable dishonesty.”

Philip also revealed that the regulator has developed fresh guidance which sets out in more detail the current processes where health issues are raised in disciplinary proceedings. This will be published shortly, according to the letter.

Earlier this month, the JLD urged the regulator to think twice before prosecuting vulnerable solicitors who have mental health issues or have been working in toxic environments.

The group, which represents approximately 70,000 law students, trainees and solicitors with up to five years’ post-qualification experience (PQE), went on to warn that sever 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”.

Matthews has since launched a crowdfunder to cover the costs of her High Court appeal. She has so far raised £13,000 of her £40,000 target.

Read the SRA’s letter in full below:

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22 Comments

Trainee Solicitor

I don’t see what the complaint is here, the SRA have long took a stance that dishonesty is a strike off offence, it’s not the fact that she left the briefcase on the train, it’s that she lied about it. The only unfair part is in relation to the costs, ordered £10,000 in costs when you have just taken someones livelihood away is harsh.

(48)(19)

Anonymous

The problem is that most of the public view solicitors as dishonest anyway.

(6)(3)

Akin Gump NQ (Second Lambo purchased)

She wouldn’t have a problem if she worked at a top dollah firm like me. Could easily sell off the holiday home for the penalty costs.

(2)(17)

Kirkland NQ

Holiday home? Loser. It’s a 400ft superyacht or nothing at the ‘land.

(2)(8)

Anonymous

£10,000 holiday home – where’s that?

(1)(0)

Dave Davies

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal instructed the SRA to investigate a complaint of dishonesty against the Vice President of the Law Society. The SRA point blank refused claiming a previous ruling in a civil court stated that there was no dishonesty. This is a clear breach of the SRA own rules which states that Civil or Criminal proceedings cannot stop a regulatory process.

The entire legal regulatory system is a sham yet most legal professionals turn a blind eye.

Its only when legal professionals become effected themselves by the improper actions of the SRA will they realise the extent of the utter corruption.

UK Justice is Broken; see the petition

(8)(0)

-

I hope she wins her appeal

(41)(7)

future solicitor lawyer

anybody kno the NQ whac at Gold, Weems, Bruser, Sues & Rundell ??? Really need to kno thx!!!

(1)(4)

No Hope Pope

She has got as much hope as a llama priest hopelessly spinning a prayer wheel.

The mental health issues were not causative of the misconduct.

Contrast with Duxbury-Tetley, where mental health was causative, and the allegations of dishonesty (not lack of integrity) were withdrawn and she was able to continue practising with conditions: https://www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk/sites/default/files-sdt/11622.2017.Duxbury-Tetley.pdf

(8)(0)

Anonymous

And what about those pressured lawyers who become whistleblowers? Are you still going to strike them off as well? This happens so regularly no wonder people are deterred from reporting wrongdoing. Confidence in the SRA is at an all-time low. Mr Philip should get off his high-horse and perhaps try working in a law firm.

(50)(2)

Scep Tick

The whistleblower who was struck off sat on her whistle for a year until she qualified. And then blew the whistle. So she was going along with it while it suited her.

And it is not the SRA which strikes solicitors off. It is the SDT.

(2)(10)

Dave Davies

The SDT are NOT independent of the SRA.
The SDT are administered by a Private Ltd company, the SDTAL which is paid £3m a year by the Law Society.
The same senior members of the SDT are also the directors of the Private Ltd
company; both are run by the same people .
Edward Nally is President of the SDT and Chairman of the SDTAL.
He responds to complaints about the SDT in his position as Chairman of the SDTAL which is required to be independent.
This is a breach of Public Law.
There is NO independent complaints process for the SDT; the so called external complaints process for the SDT is managed by the SDTAL; the same people.

The SRA is currently part of the Law Society and is fully funded and overseen by them.
They are not independent.The law Society effectively has oversight and funds both the SRA and the SDT (via the SDTAL)
The 2018 SDT report page 3 it states
‘To ensure that the SDT is (and is perceived to be) independent of The Law Society, the approved regulator of the solicitors profession, and the SRA (The Law Society’s independent regulatory arm), individuals who are employed by or serve as Council or Board Members of either body cannot be appointed as Tribunal Members.’
This clearly confirms that there should be no connection between SDT Tribunal Members and staff and the Law Society or the SRA and that it is a legal requirement to ensure that the SDT is and is perceived to be independent of the Law Society. This is extremely important as the Law Society is a representative body for solicitors, but even more so when the complaint being considered is against the Vice president/ President of the Law Society.
The SDT conducts regular user group meetings. These meetings are held in private and there is no reporting of who attends or what is discussed. It is know that these meetings are attended by senior members of the SDT, The Law Society and the SRA.
There is no independence of the so called regulators.
UK Justice is Broken . see the petition

(3)(0)

Will

That costs order….

(26)(0)

Anonymous

“We talk about mental health issues to virtue signal but when it comes to the crunch if you do something during a period of illness, we’ll hammer you anyway.”

(22)(1)

anon.

Rules are rules.

(2)(10)

Anon

Rules are made to be broken – ever heard that one? Have a heart. She didn’t really do anything wrong, all well that ends well.

(4)(6)

Counsel

Public interest? SRA needs to worry about its reputation within the legal profession than the public who barely know about its existence. It is a hypocritical regulator which has no trust left in it by the lawyers. Who shoots the messenger?!

(13)(2)

Surrey Partner

She wasn’t struck off because she lost a briefcase. She was struck off because she lied about it. The argument that this will deter whistleblowers is nonsense – it should encourage them to fess up to mistakes ASAP (which are covered by insurance anyway) and not cover them up.

I tell our lawyers all the time, I‘ll never fire you for making a mistake, but I will fire you on the spot if you try and cover it up.

(8)(19)

Paul

I think you could have some employment law issues if you start trying to ‘fire people on the spot’ if you think they have ‘covered something up’. I find it very hard to believe that you are a ‘Surrey partner’ (presumably suggesting a partner in a Surrey based law firm) if you are not even aware of elementary disciplinary processes (are you in reality a v.junior bod from the SRA?)

(9)(0)

Barrister who makes mistakes

Give her a break; she’s only human

(31)(2)

Solicitor

Yes it’s because of the dishonesty, but it was minor and she was newly qualified and very vulnerable. It is not in the public interest to strike someone like that off. It’s against the public interest because it discourages other lawyers from reporting mistakes and contributes to the already poor mental health among junior lawyers.

(19)(2)

Fair

There must be a balance to be applied to this i.e. exceptional circumstances: very young, very scared, error of judgement and confessed very quickly. Surely to obliterate her life is a bit OTT in all the circumstances. Give her a suspension and watch her like a hawk. You can bet your bottom dollar she’ll not do anything remotely like that again.

(13)(2)

Comments are closed.

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