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Junior solicitor struck off after leaving suitcase on a train succeeds in appeal

A junior solicitor struck off the Roll in March 2020 after she left confidential documents in a locked suitcase on a train has succeeded in her appeal against findings of dishonesty and an order striking her off the Solicitors’ Roll.

Posted on 22 March 2021

The case against Claire Matthews will now be heard by a new panel of the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). 
The successful outcome was secured this week when the Divisional Court formally sealed a consent order allowing the appeal.
Claire was struck off after the SDT found she had been dishonest when telling her employer about the loss on a train of a locked suitcase containing confidential client documents. 
The SRA alleged at the SDT that Claire acted dishonestly in how she reported the loss to Capsticks LLP, where she had been working for just four weeks at the time of the events in May 2018 following her qualification as a solicitor in September 2017. 
As well as being the professional regulator responsible for the investigation and prosecution of the case against Claire, the SRA was also the Capsticks client whose documents she lost.
Capsticks is also the SRA’s retained firm for these sorts of regulatory investigations and prosecutions. Given the firm’s direct involvement in the facts of Claire’s case, however, the SRA appointed alternative solicitors to conduct the case against her.
Claire was not represented in the previous proceedings before the SDT and the result caused outcry in the legal profession, prompting offers of unpaid assistance if she wished to appeal.
The successful outcome of her appeal means Claire’s case will now be re-tried by a new panel after the SRA agreed that her appeal should be allowed to enable the SDT to consider the case afresh. That agreement came after Claire’s pro bono legal team, appointed in April 2020 after the SDT’s decision to strike her off, obtained and shared with the SRA expert medical evidence relevant to the allegations against her.
Claire is represented by Gideon Habel and Emma Walker of Leigh Day’s Regulatory & Disciplinary team and barristers Mary O’Rourke QC, Mark Harries QC and Rosalind Scott Bell, all acting pro bono.
After lodging her appeal, Claire launched a GoFundMe page to help cover the SRA’s costs that might be awarded against her if she lost the appeal, as well as to help cover the £10,000 costs award made against her by the SDT when striking her off.
Whilst the SDT’s original order on costs has been quashed and the parties have agreed to bear their own costs of the appeal, Claire is still raising funds to cover the costs associated with her case, including medical expert fees and any possible costs order that might be made against her if the SDT found her guilty of misconduct at the new hearing.
Claire has committed to donate any surplus funds to LawCare, the charity for all branches and members of the legal profession, which promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing throughout the legal community.
Speaking of her decision to donate to LawCare, Claire said: “LawCare has been wonderfully supportive, not only during the initial phase of the SRA's investigation, but its staff also reached out to me after the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal's decision was published. It is a charity that is close to my heart and it provides such amazing support to lawyers, which is of paramount importance now, more than ever.” 
Claire expressed her relief at the outcome of her appeal, saying: 
“I am so very overwhelmed by the support and generous donations I have received over the last year. I could not have envisaged, when I started this appeal, that the decision  at the original tribunal could be successfully challenged so as to give me a chance to clear my name on an equal footing with the SRA. The support I have been offered has been so gratefully received and the efforts of the  pro bono team have been incredible. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for  both their advice and support along the way. It is so important to support any newly qualified professional but especially those who are suffering but afraid to speak out. After the year we have all had it is ever more important. If this process has taught me anything it is never suffer alone and never give up.”
Head of Leigh Day’s Regulatory & Disciplinary team, Partner, Gideon Habel noted:
“It was clear from the outset of our instruction that Claire’s case raised significant questions about how the SRA, the SDT and the profession itself deal with allegations of misconduct in the context of mental ill-health. We are delighted for Claire that we’ve succeeded in persuading the SRA of the significance of this new expert evidence and look forward to assisting her in her continuing fight to clear her name in the fresh hearing before the SDT.”
Associate solicitor in Leigh Day’s Regulatory & Disciplinary team, Emma Walker, added:
“Claire felt it was important to see her appeal through, in order to help highlight mental health in the legal profession and the devastating effect it can have when ill-health impacts on careers. It will be a privilege to represent Claire in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and provide her with the advice and support she was unable to afford when she represented herself the first time around.”

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