‘Disgraceful’ comments made to fellow rookie were a private rather than a work matter, tribunal finds
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has overturned a disciplinary finding against a then trainee solicitor who gave a colleague a sexually explicit Christmas card.
Adam Fouracre, then a trainee at global law firm Dentons, was initially issued with a published rebuke over the “inappropriate sexualised references”.
But the tribunal found that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had not established that Fouracre’s “disgraceful” behaviour had anything to do with public trust in legal services providers.
Fouracre began his training contract at Dentons in August 2018 and the incident took place in December. The firm had previously given Fouracre a warning over an “inappropriate comment” towards some secretaries.
Bosses then received a complaint from another trainee, KB, who was on secondment from another firm for six months. Fouracre gave her two presents along with a Christmas card which contained a reference to a vibrator and was signed off: “Wishing a sexy Yorkshire babe a great Christmas”.
KB returned the presents and reported the card. The SRA became involved and an adjudicator eventually recommended that Fouracre be rebuked, with the rebuke to be published, and have to pay £600 in costs.
Fouracre appealed, essentially arguing that this was a private rather than work matter. He also said that the card was a reference to a sexually suggestive comment that KB had made to him. She had also apparently told friends a few days previously that she really liked him.
The eight grounds of appeal included a reference to the case of Ryan Beckwith, the ex-Freshfields partner eventually cleared of professional misconduct after a consensual “sexual encounter” with a junior colleague. In that case, the High Court told the SRA that misconduct rules “may reach into private life only when conduct that is part of a person’s private life realistically touches on her practise of the profession… or the standing of the profession”.
Deciding the appeal in Fouracre’s favour, the tribunal found that the adjudicator had put too much store on the fact that he was physically in the office when handing over the card:
“Applying the dicta in Beckwith, the Tribunal considered that the point at issue in this case was not the location at which the conduct occurred, and whether the conduct complained of took place in the office or out of the office as characterised by the Adjudicator. The key question to be addressed, in a proper application of Beckwith was whether the alleged breaches could with reason be closely tied to the guidance set out in the Solicitor’s Handbook.”
The panel agreed that Fouracre’s conduct had been “deeply inappropriate and disgraceful” and “impacted on his own personal reputation”. But the adjudicator had failed to establish that it amounted to professional misconduct: “In her decision there was nothing to suggest that the Adjudicator had considered whether there was evidence which linked the Appellant’s giving of the Christmas card, to the provision of legal services, as required by Principle 6”.
Fouracre’s appeal was therefore allowed, and the rebuke revoked with immediate effect.