Ex-Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith has lodged an appeal in the High Court against the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal's finding against him.

A junior lawyer in his team, known as 'Person A', had complained to the Solicitors Regulation Authority that Beckwith took advantage of her while she was working out her notice period.

Beckwith, who was Person A's appraisal partner, admitted to kissing her in a pub following after-work drinks and then accompanying her in a taxi back to her home. He conceded to the tribunal that sexual activity then took place, something which he admitted was "extremely stupid" and that he would regret for the rest of his life.

But he claimed it was a mutual mistake and a "consensual sexual encounter between two adults".

Despite Beckwith's team's insistence that the issue of consent was central to the charges against him, the tribunal made no finding on the matter, saying it was "not an issue that needed to be determined". Instead the tribunal found that Person A was so drunk her decision-making ability was impaired, and that Beckwith should have known his conduct was inappropriate.

Ruling that his actions caused "harm to the reputation of the profession" and "significant harm" to Person A, it fined the married restructuring partner £35,000 and ordered him to pay costs of £200,000. 

Beckwith resigned from Freshfields before the SDT's decision. "He has been crushed by this process" said his barrister, Alisdair Williamson QC.


zimm

ROF's tip for High Court success.


The tribunal ruled that a fine, rather than the ban sought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, was "appropriate and proportionate in the circumstances", explaining that there was no suggestion Beckwith had "coerced or manipulated Person A", and that Beckwith's conduct was caused "by a lapse in his judgment that was highly unlikely to be repeated".

Some observers were baffled by the SDT's decision, branding it a fudge. "Two drunk people have sex and one of them pays a quarter mill and loses his job? Or else he was not drunk and took advantage - in which case it is rape and the result should be banning. Which is it? It's an either or situation and blurred lines here don't make sense", said one RollOnFriday reader.

After Beckwith lodged his High Court appeal against the decision on liability and costs, the SRA announced that it would not dispute the SDT's choice of a light sanction. The SRA declined to comment on Beckwith's appeal, while the SDT did not respond to a request for comment.

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Comments

Anon 28 February 20 08:47

SRA investigate drunken consensual sex and the Slaughters trainee who put silly comments on Facebook, both as reported by ROF. Did they ever investigate those CC management figures who were alleged to have acted fraudulently to silence that partner from AsiaPac who wanted some inappropriate behaviour investigated, also as reported by ROF towards the end of last year?

Warren 28 February 20 09:10

Lol, "I was drunk so didn't know what I was doing, but you were drunk so have to take full responsibility for everything you did".  Not sure the logic quite works here... 

FFT 28 February 20 09:17

Food for thought, [email protected] It does raise interesting questions about what the SRA are for and what solicitors in the profession expect from them. I don’t know the details of any of the three cases you mention other than the articles in ROF but I would say that I would prefer they go after misconduct and not carelessness or mistaken behaviour that does not amount to a breach of ethics

Anonymous 28 February 20 09:41

The difference between the cases Anon847 is I think that SRA need someone to make a report to them. CC management I presume did not report themselves to SRA and they gagged the partner in question who asked for the investigation. In the other two cases, I think it was the female lawyer who complained (Beckwith) and an there was an anonymous complainant about the Slaughters trainee historical Facebook comments.

Naughty boy and girls 28 February 20 10:06

Anonymous @ 9.46, I think it must be that Gagsy case where he caught them red handed doctoring appraisal records and then caught them red armed telling little fibs to other partners in an internal investigation about what had happened....

Dearie 28 February 20 10:46

Not sure this is a good look for Beckwith. He’s admitted he shagged her whilst he was her supervising partner and that he regrets it. Maybe he feels compelled to save his name but really he should have thought of that before dipping the office ink. For once I agree with the SRA - it’s not about consent but about doing something a supervising partner never should. I didn’t know she was on her notice period - so we know why she handed her notice? Maybe relevant, maybe not. We don’t have enough info to judge it all but a partner shagging a junior is no longer acceptable and it’s kind of mad trying to defend that.

Morality Police 28 February 20 11:17

That is a we’ll argued point you make Dearie, but it seems to me you are taking a moral position and making a value judgement that it is wrong for a partner to bed a trainee. I actually agree with that and would criticise Beckwith for it. However, many would disagree with us and the point is it is not the SRAs  a role to make a judgement call on who can have consensual sex with who. If that was outlawed fair enough. It is not, it is just frowned upon (by some, not everyone). So it is not their jurisdiction. They are not the morality police

Anonymous 28 February 20 11:23

I personally don't have a problem with partners and trainees bedding one another, but I feel Beckwith shouldn't have done so because he was married and, if the trainee was in a serious relationship then she shouldn't have done so either. But it's nothing to do with the SRA.

Anonymous 28 February 20 11:49

I agree it’s nothing to do with SRA. There are many workplace relationships and it is for firms to outlaw partner/trainee liaisons if they want, not the regulator.

anyone know the answer to the question about whether CC management were investigated? I agree that would seem much more relevant for the SRA. Perhaps someone from CC could comment, any information from the general counsel please?

Maria 28 February 20 12:35

The SRA was right. If you are a partner, in a supervisory position, in a position of power where your decisions and evaluations can make or break a person's career/life, you should not shag that person. 

It is not about consent but about integrity and avoiding conflicts of interest, both cornerstones of the profession. If you fuck someone you can't be impartial and you won't be seen to be impartial. End off. I don't understand why that is difficult for some people to get.

Should he be struck off? No. Should he be punished? Absolutely. The best way to do that is with public shaming and through his wallet. The decision was correct. 

 

Anon 28 February 20 12:48

Maria, there are many examples of relationships in law workplaces which involve partners and people who report to them etc [example redacted]. Just like there are many dentists who date dental hygienists, bosses who date secretaries, Doctors who date nurses in their teams, store managers who date store assistants. My friend owns a hairdressing salon and she ended up marrying one of the hairstylists who worked for her. Do you outlaw or “punish” (as you say) all this? What gives you the right to stand in judgement? 

Anonymous 28 February 20 12:53

By your logic Maria, nobody should ever shag a judge or a policeman. There is no suggestion that Beckwith sought to leverage any power he had over the accuser, or indeed that the accuser felt obliged to shag Beckwith because if any power he had over her, or indeed that the accuser sought to exercise any of her power over Beckwith.

This was a wrong decision and one which was outside of the SRA's remit.

Anonymous 28 February 20 13:26

Maria / Dearie - how is supervision actually relevant when you have resigned?

 

If you read the judgement the SDT specifically ruled that Person A’s allegation that she resigned as a result of Beckwith and then tried to minimise contact was not sustainable and then basically threw out her entire version of events. This really raises questions for me around her honesty around the whole episode. Sounds like she regretted trying to shag a married partner and then piggybacked on the #metoo movement to get payback. Such a desperate, desperate shame for all the very real victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault as it inevitably (and wrongly tars) them with this brush. 

Anonymous 28 February 20 14:04

Glad he's appealing and I wish him luck. Consensual sex between two adult, practising solicitors is not a matter for the SRA. As a partner/employer, he shouldn't have done it and the sanction imposed by the partnership was correct. That should have been the end of it.

On a separate note, if you read the determination issued by the SDT, the evidence obtained from her phone and Uber account completely supports his account of events. 

Why is the SRA not spending less time on this and more time sorting out its own inappropriate behaviour/nepotism/croneyism reported by RoF last year? I think the SRA's behaviour - which is a deliberate and ongoing course of conduct - is far more concerning in terms of integrity than Beckwith's one drunken night.  

Anon 28 February 20 14:45

Anon 1432, no but she is subject to the HRA. The Hairstylist Regulatory Authority. It has similar rules to the SRA. Fraud and corruption and bullying are fine and turn a blind eye to serious and appalling behaviour by hairdressing  management! Just no sex between senior and junior stylists 

Anonymous 28 February 20 15:04

The judgement also specifically says that she was not vulnerable or in need of special protection. 

...but then concluded she still should have been protected by a man. Guess those Victorians saying woman can’t control their own sexual urges were right after all!!! 😂

Anonymous 28 February 20 15:04

The judgement also specifically says that she was not vulnerable or in need of special protection. 

...but then concluded she still should have been protected by a man. Guess those Victorians saying woman can’t control their own sexual urges were right after all!!! 😂

Maria 28 February 20 15:09

Anonymous 28 February 20 12:53

I am not saying nobody should ever shag a partner. I am saying that a partner should not shag someone who he directly supervises. And I am saying that the burden is higher on a person who fulfils a supervisory function in the legal profession, than (for example) a hairsalon owner, because we are subject to specific rules of conduct. These rules of conduct may be a burden, yes, but they also ensure that there is trust in our profession. It is what makes our profession special and it is why not everyone can practice as a solicitor. 

A policeman who shags a witness in a case or a possible suspect will find himself in hot water very quickly. A judge who shags a defendant/claimant/barrister that appears before him will equally find himself in hot water if that is not disclosed (and I sincerely doubt that a judge who has sex with a defendant in a case he is residing over will be found fit to continue to deal with that case).

Please don't compare apples with oranges just because you feel sympathy with Beckwith. You are trying to normalise something which is a real issue in the profession and which undermines the trust that the public places in us. 

It is a slippery slope from "it's consensual" to "you did not chose to have consensual sex with me, so now you are at a disadvantage".

Anonymous 28 February 20 17:13

@Maria - it's up to the partner and the person being supervised. They're both adults. The rules of conduct don't cover morality or whether partners can have sex with people they supervise. The comparison with the hair salon owner is valid and we shouldn't look down our nose at them just because they're not solicitors.

Your argument seems to be that nobody can shag someone else if they could have power over that person, even if the power has nothing to do with them shagging. By that logic, a policeman or a judge wouldn't be able to shag anybody.

What Beckwith did doesn't need normalising because it is already normal. You're entitled to have a moral opinion, but you're not entitled to insist that he be punished professionally for it. It certainly doesn't undermine the trust the public places in solicitors, in fact to spend as much time and resources targeting Beckwith when there are issues much more important to the public causes far more damages to the public perception. I do sympathise with Beckwith, and I think most people do to some extent, to have no sympathy for him at all seems harsh. 

Your thoughts on consent seem to imply that women aren't capable of refusing consent to something if doing so would put them at a disadvantage. I think that does women a disservice.

Anonymous 28 February 20 20:49

I agree with those who say this is nothing to do with the SRA, but I'd go further and say it's none of the firm's business either.

Anonymous 28 February 20 23:59

Anon 13:26, Anon 14:04, Anon 15:04 - are these people actually lawyers? I’d like to have a job where I would have time to read a random judgement!!!

@RollonFriday - although if they are right there is some seriously biased reporting going on! Please give us all the facts as those of us still living the #cpchecklistlyfe at midnight on Friday rely on you to get it right! Want to make sure we are slagging off the right people in front of the printer at 2am!!!

Anonymous 29 February 20 00:03

@28th @ 14.32 - and nor was Beckwith, since the SRA rules of conduct don't cover what he was accused of.

Anon 29 February 20 06:37

Maria - you clearly haven’t read the judgment. 
 

“The SRA was right. If you are a partner, in a supervisory position, in a position of power where your decisions and evaluations can make or break a person's career/life, you should not shag that person.”

 

1.  It wasn’t held that sexual intercourse took place.  She couldn’t remember, and he didn’t admit it.

 

2.  She had already resigned from the firm when this “incident” took place.   

Anonymous 03 March 20 13:28

He does have a large degree of support, and could potentially raise a lot from crowdfunding for his appeal.

Not a lawyer 03 March 20 16:40

@Maria 

Two things:

(1) she had resigned and therefore he couldn't affect her career directly; and

(2) the SRA conceded and the Tribunal found that he didn't use his authority and the activity didn't take place because he was her boss.

It does seem a very odd judgement - and probably different from the circumstances you describe which would likely be an abuse of authority (and properly punishable).

 

"3 The Tribunal noted that during her cross-examination of the Respondent Ms Karmy-Jones QC specifically stated that it was not suggested that the Respondent had used his authority over Person A to convince or induce her to engage in sexual activity. Ms Karmy-Jones QC also specifically did not suggest that the Respondent had abused his authority or manipulated Person A by abusing his authority. It was also not Person A’s evidence that she felt obliged to remain in the pub with the Respondent as he was her boss, or that she had continued to drink as he was buying drinks for her as her boss. Nor was it her evidence that the sexual activity that had taken place was by virtue of that fact that the Respondent was her boss. In those circumstances, the Tribunal considered that the allegation that the Respondent’s conduct was an abuse of his position of seniority or authority was not sustainable."

AbsurdinessBrown 05 March 20 02:13

This is very much like those campus rape witchhunts that occurred in America (often accompanied by fake news, such as the infamous RollingStone article).

If it is a criminal matter, the police should be looking into it.

If he threatened her future employment prospects, it is probably a criminal matter and an employment matter.

Regret filled snogging is not something the SRA should be looking into.

ComeOnSRA 06 March 20 05:02

I echo the views that SRA should focus on issues that the public and the profession are concerned about. This does not include drunken sex between adults both of whom happen to work for a law firm (or in this case, one of whom did as she had already resigned), or non-woke comments put on Facebook by a teenager ten years previously as another poster commented (Slaughters trainee) and where the “complainant” is clearly trying to settle a score. It should include allegations of dishonesty and fraud even where (and especially where) the naughty people are senior management in big firms (eg the Bakers and CC cases where management are alleged to have manipulated internal “investigators” to protect members of their group). 

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