A junior lawyer has been struck off after she lied to her supervisor about losing a briefcase with sensitive documents.
Claire Louse Matthews was a newly-qualified lawyer in Capsticks office in Birmingham when the incident occurred. She borrowed a colleague's briefcase to take work documents back to her home in Cheltenham, but fell asleep on the train, leaving the briefcase behind.
Capsticks had been instructed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority on a matter, and the work documents contained sensitive information about a litigant who had brought a claim against the SRA.
Matthews called the lost property department at the station and was told if the case was recovered that it could take a week before it would be returned.
The junior lawyer did not report the loss to Capsticks in the week that followed. On one occasion she told a supervisor that she had left the documents at home. Another time, one week after the case had been missing, she sent an email to her supervisor saying that she had "inadvertently left the suitcase on the train" that morning as she was "distracted by being unwell on the train". But the following day, she eventually confessed to her supervisor that the briefcase had been lost for over a week.
The SRA submitted to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that Matthews had breached the regulator's principles as she had failed to act with integrity, and/or in a way that maintains the public's trust in the legal profession.
Matthews represented herself at the tribunal hearing. She described the period after losing the suitcase as the darkest days of her life. She said she barely ate, slept or showered during that week. She told the tribunal that she drank alcohol "to excess in order to block out the event". And at her lowest point had "resorted to drinking bleach in an attempt to end her life."
She denied that she lied to her colleagues. She said that she had not attempted to deceive or mislead her supervisor. Her email about the date she had left the suitcase on the train was ambiguous, she claimed. She also said she had sent the email in a state of anxiety and under the influence of alcohol.
However, the SDT found that Matthews had stated an untruth in her email stated and it lacked ambiguity. The tribunal held that she had acted dishonestly and breached the SRA's principles.
The tribunal ordered that the lawyer be struck off the roll and pay the SRA's costs.
However, the SRA claimed over £55,000 in costs. The SRA typically would have instructed Capsticks on such a case, but due to the conflicts neither Capsticks nor the SRA's in-house counsel could appear before the tribunal. The SRA instructed Fieldfisher who charged a much heftier fee than Capsticks usual rates.
Fieldfisher smelt money
Matthews, who had a temporary job at a call centre for £9 per hour at the time of the hearing, asserted that Fieldfisher's rates were excessive "on any analysis".
The tribunal agreed and slashed the SRA's costs from over £55,000 to £10,000.