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. 


Gold

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.

Tip Off ROF

Comments

Anonymous 17 April 20 09:38

I wish the costs for these tribunals would be subject to detailed assessment with mandatory attendance at court by the fee earners to answer questions from the assessing judge. 

Law Is Broken 17 April 20 09:59

Without wishing to absolve this poor lady of any apportionment of blame, there is something profoundly sick about an industry which pushes its juniors to drink bleach with stress and then strikes them off and charges them £10,000 for the pleasure.

SRA Strikes Again 17 April 20 10:25

Is the a body responsible for overseeing the decisions of the SDT? 

This seems like a mistake. Fear drove some poor actions. But there was not deceit, nor any benefit from that deceit. There was no absolute lie. The whole thing lasted barely a week. There was definite remorse. 

A very brief look at the SDT's recent decisions shows what i would deem more serious issues being rsolved by a fine. 

 

Anonymous 17 April 20 10:40

The SRA is an utter disgrace.  A widely disrespected over-zealous snuff squad of failed lawyers dispensing medieval justice at every turn.  Look at how other professionals are regulated and compare that with the SRA’s trigger happy approach. 
Just when you think that it cannot get any worse after striking off a NQ whistle-blower, the SRA surpasses itself by snuffing out another career as a result of a panicked moment of madness.  This lady would have learnt her lesson from a rebuke - this is over the top and further undermines the standing of the SRA in the eyes of solicitors.

Not fit for purpose, not fit for anything. 

Dearie 17 April 20 10:44

Agree there is fault but the punishment does not sit well - it feels like the SRA wanted to go full metal on her because she lost documents relating to a SRA case, but SDT helpfully pinned it on the stressed out lying which sounds like some mental gymnastics we’re required on the particular wording of an email. Also worrying is the SRA’s belief that no junior lawyer can learn from a mistake. 
Would love to know what happened in the case capsticks were handling for SRA and if the other lawyer did sue??? 

Anonymous 17 April 20 11:22

The nepotistic bunch of idiots leading the SRA have absolutely no idea about proportionality. I regularly refer to the Code for Crown Prosecutors: there are a range of sanctions, like warnings, cautions and referrals to training to be applied proportionately, with prosecution at the very sharp end where there is a public interest and sufficient evidence. All enforcement bodies have something similar, but the SRA seems to be all over the shop....

Anonymous 17 April 20 11:52

The SRA have been bringing our profession into disrepute with a zealousness and determination that makes one question whether that is in fact its undeclared but sole objective.

Anonymous 17 April 20 11:52

The SRA have been bringing our profession into disrepute with a zealousness and determination that makes one question whether that is in fact its undeclared but sole objective.

Shame on SRA 17 April 20 14:39

I can’t believe how harsh the punishment was. She lost some documents and panicked. A big mistake but not strike off territory. This is the same SRA who have still not initiated an investigation against senior management of an MC firm who have been alleged to have acted wilfully and with deceit to silence a partner from their firm who had uncovered some really bad behaviour.

anonymous 17 April 20 15:24

The SRA sits in its unnecessarily expensive offices in The Cube in Birmingham, paid for by those it seeks to humiliate and destroy.  It is abundantly clear that this lady should have been dealt with any other way than strike off.  This is yet another example of  SRA/SDT incompetence.  Ive said this for years and taking the lead from a comment above no one should be involved in any disciplinary process who is not a qualified solicitor/CILEX.  Perhaps even better dump the SRA and have the process overseen by retired lawyers qualified to make decisions which affect peoples' lives so profoundly. 

On another note shouldn't Fieldfisher be reported to the SRA for overcharging?

SRA should be disbanded and Capsticks sacked 17 April 20 15:33

What is also an utter disgrace is the SRA not taking any action against Capsticks (their own panel solicitors) for failing to self-report this issue to them when it arose. For goodness sake, Capsticks will be prosecuting others from time to time on behalf of the SRA for failing to do the very same. Capsticks should be removed from the panel and the work put out to tender again. Slapsticks more like.

Anon 17 April 20 15:49

She lied to her employer about a serious issue involving protection of client and counter party confidentiality.  As they were original documents it was inevitable that she would have to confess.   Had she done so, she wouldn’t have been struck off and would have been able to continue her career even if dismissed from her firm.  Lying is a breach of the Principles and clearly shows bad character and judgment in this instance.  The SRA is clear that there is almost a zero tolerance of dishonest behaviour.   I’m not surprised she was stuck off.   If she wasn’t, then the SRA are sending out a message it’s OK to lose confidential documents and then lie about it.   
 

The costs are obscene, and quite rightly have been reduced.  

Anon 17 April 20 16:01

The SRA's findings have lost all sense about what dishonesty means. 

Dishonesty can mean lots of things, and this case was perhaps more reckless and stupidity rather than deceit and contempt.   

Surely it is not correct to apply the same sanction of strike-off to all cases that "could" be dressed up in this way. 

No allowance made for her (lack of) years of experience or the fact that all she did was lose a suitcase.  Of course she didn't mean to. There was no real hard done.

All very silly and this poor lady's career is smashed for no good reason. 

(p.s become a barrister and do what you like... )

Anon 17 April 20 16:28

Ridiculous from the SRA. She knew that nothing could be done for a week and stalled for a bit, in the knowledge that it made no meaningful difference to anyone but her.

Had her delay increased the damage, then perhaps this would have been justified.

But of course it's so easy to be po-faced about anything which can be categorised as 'dishonesty'.

anon 17 April 20 16:35

agree completely I do with the comments about the outrageous costs claimed by the SRA.  When they struck Alan Blacker off they attempted to get £86,000 out of him. That figure, according to at least one report went up to £100,000 in their bankcruptcy proceedings against him. I wonder if the SRA comply themselves with the costs transparency rules they impose on solicitors !

 

Anonymous 17 April 20 17:45

There is an appeal on LinkedIn to try and contact her, as some kind lawyers are offering to do an appeal pro bono, but time to appeal is tight. Does anyone know where she is? 

FiendishFu 17 April 20 18:22

I do think there are levels of dishonesty, and lying to a colleague in a panic about where you put a document is very much at the shallow end. What next, striking someone off because they overslept and then lied about the bus being late?

You can of course be fired for a hurried lie to a colleague, and that's fair enough, but I consider it harsh to strike someone off for it.

Scep Tick 17 April 20 21:04

"This seems like a mistake. Fear drove some poor actions. But there was not deceit, nor any benefit from that deceit. "

There was deceit. She lied.  More than once.  As Lord Bingham said, you have to trust a solicitor to the ends of the earth. 

As for her being an NQ, look at it another way.  It must have been one of her first cock-ups and her instinct was to lie about it.  That's not a good look.

Anon 17 April 20 21:59

Actually so many of the comments above show an ignorance of the law and applicable tests.  There aren’t levels of dishonesty and in any event integrity is a different concept.   It wasn’t the waiting for the documents to turn up that was the issue it was the decision to lie to her employer that was the issue.   No regulator will tolerate that.  

Anon 18 April 20 08:52

This is a very sad story. Ok she messed up & the panic & stress she must have even under is unthinkable but to resort to drinking bleach to take her own life because of this case is very very sad. 
I do hope this young lady moves on from this.

 

Anon 18 April 20 09:51

She lied about the date she left the briefcase on the train. Scandalous! Next you're going to tell me it was actually a bus. How can anyone have faith in the solicitors' profession after this? 

The Fisting Goblin 18 April 20 11:12

Fess up when you cock up is the first lesson.

It's not as if she'd done it on purpose. Embarrassing?  Yes.  Career ending.  Certainly not.

Once again it's not the crime it's the cover up.

It's the lies that finish you.

 

Teclis 19 April 20 09:40

I’ve heard about this but not actually read about it until today.

As a community, we should be looking to not only combat this dreadful behaviour by the SRA but also look to support this lady.  Surely, as a group we must collectively know hundreds of thousands of companies and business owners that could offer her a job once we are done with this lockdown?

You make one mistake, one shit decision and your life and career are ruined?  Really?  If that were the case for me, I’d still be washing up pots and pans in Cattlemarket Road post office in Bristol.

Claire Matthews, if you happen to read this, I am well connected in Birmingham and very happy to speak to a few folks I know for you.  No guarantees obviously but at least I could arrange a foot in the door.  [email protected]

 

The Fisting Goblin 19 April 20 12:49

Sympathy is all well and good but this is a matter of trust and of character.

This lady cannot be trusted to represent her clients faithfully.  I say this not because she left a briefcase behind but because she hid from her mistake rather than admit it and remedy it.

And if she's drinking bleach as a consequence of the mess that she created rather than admitting and fixing her mistakes then the law is not for her.  Good decision by the SRA in my opinion, although the costs were absurdly high.

Inconsistent 20 April 20 08:07

I’ve just had a quick look through some recent SDT judgements and find it amazing that a solicitor who is convicted of drink driving gets off with £2k fine and £2.5k costs. Same questions around honesty and bringing the profession into disrepute were considered at the hearing.

I would trust a solicitor who comes clean a week after making a mistake (3 days after the alleged lie in these circumstances) far more than a person who thought it totally ok to get behind the wheel of a car whilst intoxicated with zero regard to the danger they pose to others. 

The inconsistency in judgements brings the SDT and SRA into disrepute. 

Scep Tick 20 April 20 10:51

I'm actually very worried by the number of people, including the thumbs ups, who do not seem to think that honesty is that important for a solicitor.  That white lies are OK.  I can only hope they are not solicitors.

Anon 20 April 20 13:02

No, she claimed she left them at home, which was a lie when she had lost them.   This wasn’t an issue relating to an office stapler, but it was the golden rule - confidentiality of client information.   To not immediately report this and wait a week is itself a problem but to lie about it meant that she had to be struck off.   

The Fisting Goblin 20 April 20 19:38

From the looks of the votes and responses here a lot of people think self-harm is a winning argument.

Court should be interesting.

Anonymous 20 April 20 22:21

Yes, she did wrong, but what a parable for today’s solicitors’ profession. Law firms who commoditise junior lawyers, wringing every last chargeable hour out of them, paying lip service to their well-being and creating a culture of blame where they are terrified about the personal consequences of admitting mistakes. A terrible, incompetent regulatory body lacking any sense of proportion, hanging easy targets out to dry and interested only in retribution and not rehabilitation. Shamelessly excessive fees, which nobody will do anything about, despite the SDT’s ruling on them. A sad state of affairs. 

Anonymous 20 April 20 22:58

She lied. It's a dishonesty offence. A terrible look, particularly for an NQ early into their career immediately resorting to lying.

Perhaps a suspension would have been a better approach and then force her to practice under restriction until satisfied she can be trusted. 

Don't get me started on the costs. Disgusting. 

Consistency of Dishonesty 21 April 20 07:42

Those saying "she was dishonest, so should be struck off"

You are missing the point the rest of us are making.

Read other decisions by the SDT, numerous cases of dishonesty dealt with by a fine or suspension.

The SDT must be consistent. It currently is not. 

Example:

- City partner, drove whilst drunk, then lied to try & get out of breathlyser test - two counts of dishonesty. 

- Decision: Suspension 

- Post Suspension: He has changed his name. The spent suspension decision doesn't attach to the new name. His clients would never know. 

- I informed the SRA, they said, nothing they can do. 

How is that protecting the public? 

Anon 21 April 20 13:04

She wasn’t “charged” costs but the SRA.  
 

The SDT made a costs order against her, which is normal.  The amount was challenged and reduced, which is fairly normal.  

Anonymous 21 April 20 18:47

@Anon 21 April 20 13:04

 

We all understand that. The issue is the costs charged by the solicitors which were then submitted for an order against her. The costs were eye watering. 

UNJUST-INVESTIGATE UK JUSTICE SYSTEM 21 April 20 20:13

Doesnt seem like there are any solicitors who will stand up and be counted when it comes to taking action about the blatant improper conduct of the SRA or SDT but it looks like others might!

There is a Change petition 'UK Justice is Broken. Call for an urgent investigation by the National Crime Agency.'

The failure of honest solicitors to act diminishes Public Trust in all.

Scep Tick 22 April 20 11:08

"Read other decisions by the SDT, numerous cases of dishonesty dealt with by a fine or suspension."

 

Name six.  Dishonesty is game over.

Anonymous 23 April 20 12:38

Claire has found some pro bono lawyers who are helping her appeal this decision. If you want to support her, she set up a go fund me page to cover a potential adverse costs order:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/claire-matthews-fund-for-sra-appeal?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link-tip&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet  

 

Anonymous 23 April 20 13:59

"She lied about the date she left the briefcase on the train. Scandalous! Next you're going to tell me it was actually a bus."

@ Anon 18 April 20 09:51

If you can't see the difference between leaving documents at home and losing them then you should probably focus on conveyancing.  The law is not for you.

Related News

X

Don’t miss your best career move. Receive approaches from top law firms and in-house employers when they want someone just like you.