SRA abandons prosecution of junior solicitor who lost briefcase

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By Thomas Connelly on


Regulator drops case against Claire Louise Matthews in light of new medical evidence

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has withdrawn its prosecution of a junior solicitor who left a briefcase containing sensitive client files on a train.

The regulator today confirmed that having reviewed all the evidence in the case against Claire Louise Matthews, including new medical evidence, a re-hearing of the allegations against her would not be in the public interest.

Regular Legal Cheek readers will recall the case of Matthews, who was just a few weeks out of her training contact when, in May 2018, she misplaced the confidential client docs and then “panic-stricken”, lied about it to colleagues.

The ex-Capsticks lawyer came clean 24 hours later, but the disciplinary tribunal sided with the regulator that Matthews had been dishonest. She was struck off after a four-day hearing in April 2020, despite revealing a history of mental health problems.

Matthews subsequently launched a crowdfunding campaign in attempt to overturn what many viewed was harsh a decision. The young lawyer also received support from a crack team of lawyers, all of whom were acting pro bono, after it emerged she had represented herself throughout the original case.

We reported in March 2021 that Matthews had secured a fresh hearing after her legal team “obtained and shared expert medical evidence”.

A little over a year on the SRA today confirmed it had dropped the case against Matthews.

A spokesperson for the regulator said that during the course of the appeal, Matthews produced new expert medical evidence diagnosing conditions relevant to her mental health, which had not been available to the SRA or the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in the earlier proceedings.

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They added that the regulator then obtained its own expert medical evidence diagnosing conditions relevant to Matthews’ mental health and “having then reviewed all of the evidence in the matter, including the new medical evidence, the SRA concluded that, in the very particular circumstances of the case, a re-hearing of the allegations against Ms Matthews would not be in the public interest”.

The spokesperson continued: “Ms Matthews and the SRA agreed to the conditions that would be placed on Ms Matthews’ practising certificate and, on that basis, the SRA obtained the consent of the SDT to withdraw all of the allegations against Ms Matthews, with no order as to costs. The proceedings are therefore now concluded.”

Emma Walker, an associate in Leigh Day’s regulatory and disciplinary team, who acted for Matthews, added:

“Claire’s case is a real example of the value of getting expert input in regulatory investigations and proceedings, from legal and medical professionals. It was disappointing that neither the SRA nor the SDT saw it as their role to identify the need for expert evidence, because that would have been appropriate in this case. Since Claire’s case was heard in the SDT, both the SRA and SDT have published guidance on health issues.”

She continued: “Though this came too late for Claire, it is to be welcomed by the wider profession. It has been a real privilege to advise Claire and I am pleased she has been able to get expert input, which was critical to the outcome in this case.”

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