The SRA discovers the cabinet drawer went back a really, really long way
A veteran solicitor has been struck off for storing 743 cheques worth around £233,000, in a filing cabinet, rather than paying them out to third parties.
Ian Caunt Wilson co-founded Lyons Wilson Solicitors in Manchester in 1979, becoming the sole practitioner from 1982. He also held the compliance roles. The majority of the firm's work was for personal injury matters.
Wilson was joined by a salaried partner at the firm in 2013, who provided two reports to the SRA about the firm's finances: one in 2021 and another in February 2022, shortly after she resigned.
The SRA also received an anonymous report in 2019, which alleged that following the settlement of personal injury claims, the firm received cheques from the defendants’ insurers to settle costs and disbursements, which the firm entered onto the relevant client ledgers as having been paid.
However, the anonymous tip-off alleged that the cheques were placed in a locked cabinet and not sent out to the providers.
The SRA investigated the firm in 2020 and discovered 743 cheques in a filing cabinet in Wilson's office, of which 479 were for unpaid professional disbursements adding up to £153k, and 264 were for unpaid business liabilities totalling £80k.
The biggest debts were to two medical reporting agencies (owed £85,200 and £60,000 respectively), while Irwin Mitchell should have been paid £55,000 in respect of a fee sharing agreement.
Wilson's firm was shut down, and the SRA brought the matter to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The SRA said that Wilson was either aware of the practice of hoarding cheques, over a period of more than three years, or had such a "woeful disregard" for the firm's financial management that he essentially "turned a blind eye to it".
Wilson argued that the firm’s accounts staff were responsible for what happened. But the tribunal found this explanation to be "disingenuous and lacking in credibility", in circumstances where he was the sole equity partner and compliance officer.
Wilson's misconduct was "deliberate, calculated and repeated," found the tribunal, adding that it was "self-serving, financially motivated and intended to keep the firm operating" which was to Wilson's "benefit as sole equity partner."
The tribunal said found that the veteran solicitor had failed to co-operate with the regulator and sought "to blame others throughout the forensic investigation".
The SDT decided that Wilson be struck off the roll, as his conduct represented a "grave departure from the standards expected of a solicitor, particularly one of 50 years' experience" and ordered that he pay costs of £33,000.