High Court had overturned decision to fine former Freshfields partner
The solicitors’ watchdog will not appeal the ruling in the high-profile disciplinary case involving former Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith, it was announced on Monday.
Beckwith had been fined £35,000 and ordered to pay costs of £200,000 after a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found he had failed to act with integrity in his relationship with a junior colleague. The finding was overturned by the High Court last month.
It had been alleged that Beckwith had engaged in sexual activity with the junior solicitor and knew or ought to have known that she was intoxicated to the extent her judgement was impaired.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which brought the prosecution against Beckwith, has now confirmed in a statement that it will not appeal the ruling following advice from leading counsel.
SRA board chair Anna Bradley took what she described as “the unusual step” of commenting on the case given the widespread debate it has generated.
She said that the case had been properly brought — and certified by the tribunal — on evidence gathered in response to a “serious” complaint, adding:
“We welcome the court’s firm confirmation that our principles of acting with integrity and upholding public confidence comply with human rights standards by providing the necessary degree of legal certainty, and that ‘common sense dictates’ that those principles are entitled to reach into a solicitor’s personal life.”
“We also welcome the clarity of the court’s confirmation that the public is entitled to expect that junior staff and members of the profession are treated with respect by more senior colleagues. Solicitors must not, as the court emphasised, ‘take unfair advantage of others’ whether in a professional or personal capacity.
“In overturning the tribunal’s decision, the court expressly limited itself to the circumstances of this case. Our case did not depend on the issue of consent. Rather, we argued that the circumstances indicated vulnerability and abuse of a position of seniority and authority. Those and some other key facts were not found proved by the tribunal. The court’s judgment was based on and limited to the application of our principles to the findings of fact made by the tribunal in this case.”
Bradley concluded: “I want to emphasise that allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment are matters that we take very seriously and will continue to act upon.”