A Freshfields partner has challenged accusations that he had non-consensual sexual activity with a junior colleague after work drinks.
The SRA contends that Ryan Beckwith, a restructuring and insolvency partner, misused his position of power to obtain "sexual contact" with the woman, referred to as 'person A', and that his conduct was unbecoming of a solicitor. Beckwith argues that the charges are outside the SRA's remit and constitute an abuse of process.
After an evening of drinks with colleagues at which Ms A drank "six or seven glasses of wine and Jaegerbombs", according to a witness, she shared a taxi with Beckwith to her home. Ms A said she was surprised when Beckwith got out with her, and he allegedly followed her inside after asking to use her loo. Ms A told the tribunal she had "some recollection of waking up" naked later on. The SRA has alleged that Ms A was not in a position to consent to the sexual contact that took place.
Beckwith's barrister, Alisdair Williamson QC, produced a witness statement claiming that Ms A would "have been all right" even if she had consumed the amount of alcohol alleged by the SRA. He argued that the absence of any references to Beckwith’s seniority in Ms A's complaints, and the fact that she had already resigned from Freshfields before the incident took place, were evidence that the allegedly unbalanced power dynamic between them was irrelevant. He said that at one point Ms A told Beckwith, "You’re my married boss, it’s so cliché".
Drinks with your married boss - how it should look
Confirming that Beckwith was on indefinite leave, Freshfields senior partner Edward Braham said an external law firm was appointed to investigate when the allegations were first brought to its attention. "We took actions in the light of the report’s findings", he said.
“The firm takes all complaints extremely seriously", added Braham. "We want a culture that is welcoming and allows our people to flourish, and we work hard to achieve that. We are running a firm-wide programme to ensure our values and behaviours are consistently experienced across the firm.”
Beckwith has said the incident was a "mutual mistake".
The case management hearing will continue in June, with a substantive hearing scheduled for September.
Update: The SRA has now published its allegations.