I have often talked about the catastrophic consequences when a solcitor makes a mistake and then tries to cover it up.
In a very sad case, a solicitor of over 20 years’ experience, and an apparently unblemished career has been struck off for dishonesty. This was despite the fact that nobody had been misled.
Geoffrey Hart acted for a friend of his wife in connection with a Personal Injury Claim. The claim succeeded and she was due to recover £48k after costs were deducted. The client persuaded him to write to her advising different terms. This was to enable her to persuade her ‘controlling’ husband that she had received less. Mr Hart duly wrote two letters. The first advised that she would receive just £30k. The second advised that payment had been made.
The solicitor soon realised the implications of what he had done and told his firm. The letter was recalled. It was never seen by the husband or anybody else. He made to attempt to hide or to justify his actions.
He was reported to the SRA by the firm.
The case proceeded to the SDT which heard that Mr Hart had been under considerable pressure. His wife had suffered a miscarriage in the past and he knew that they would have difficulties having children going forwards. The client had shared that she had had a similar experience. This had clouded his judgment.
The tribunal found that he had been deliberately dishonest and failed to meet the ‘high standards of the profession’. He did not contest the decision, nor did he argue that his difficulties constituted ‘exceptional circumstances’.
I have to say that this seems to be a very unfortunate outcome. He agreed to write fake letters which were sent to the client, who knew exactly what he was doing. He soon regretted his actions. He was fully open with his firm. The problem was rectified, and no damage was suffered. Notwithstanding this, his career is now finished. What else could he have done?
In fairness, he did not strongly oppose the outcome and you wonder if it would have been different if he had done.
What this does show, is that dishonesty of any sort is likely to lead to a strike off. That will be the case even if the solicitor does all they can to rectify matters and no harm is done. Whatever pressure you might feel under, you just do not go there. It is a red line that cannot be crossed.
It is also a reminder that you should, if possible, avoid acting for a client where you have any personal connection.