Junior solicitor’s case is concluded without second Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing
A junior solicitor has been spared a second hearing in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Posted on 11 April 2022
Claire Matthews was struck off the Roll of Solicitors in March 2020, following a hearing in which she represented herself.
The SDT had found that Claire had delayed in informing her employer that she had left a locked suitcase containing client documents on a train. At the time of the events in May 2018 Claire, aged 29, had been working for Capsticks LLP for just four weeks, following her qualification as a solicitor in September 2017.
It had also found that on two occasions Claire misinformed colleagues about the whereabouts of the suitcase, and that the interactions with her colleagues were dishonest. Claire accepted she had delayed in reporting the loss of the suitcase, but denied this constituted a breach of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA’s) Principles and denied the allegations that she had deliberately sought to mislead her colleagues.
In April 2020, Claire appealed the SDT’s decision, with advice and assistance from a legal team working pro bono: Gideon Habel and Emma Walker of Leigh Day’s Regulatory & Disciplinary team, Mary O’Rourke QC and Rosalind Scott Bell from Deans Court Chambers, Mark Harries QC from Serjeants’ Inn and Marianne Butler from Fountain Court.
During the appeal, Claire received expert medical evidence that diagnosed conditions relevant to her mental health. On the basis of the medical evidence, the SRA agreed the case should be remitted to the SDT for redetermination. Claire’s appeal was allowed by consent, the SDT’s findings and orders against her were quashed and she was restored to the Roll of Solicitors.
The SRA then obtained its own expert medical evidence and, having reviewed all of the evidence in the matter including the new medical evidence, concluded that a re-hearing of the allegations would not be in the public interest, providing Claire agreed to conditions being placed on her practising certificate.
Having agreed the conditions, the SRA applied to the SDT to withdraw the allegations that had been remitted and obtained the consent of the SDT to withdraw the allegations, with no order as to costs. This means the proceedings are now concluded.
When lodging her appeal, Claire launched a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of appealing the SDT’s decision. Claire committed to donate any surplus funds to LawCare, the mental wellbeing charity for the legal community and looks forward to being able to donate almost £7,000 (around half the funds raised) to her chosen charity.
Talking about the outcome of her appeal, Claire commented:
“I hope that the outcome will help other junior solicitors who face similar, difficult situations, in knowing these decisions can sometimes be successfully challenged. I thank everyone who has kindly donated and offered their words of support, without it, I could never have envisioned the result. I am sincerely grateful for all the hard work and effort put in by everyone involved.”
Emma Walker of Leigh Day’s Regulatory & Disciplinary team explained:
“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. 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. It was encouraging to see the support Claire got from the wider legal profession and I wish her the very best for the future.”