A modern-day Keats in full flow
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has fined a partner for singing a song to a trainee about her ladyparts, after a festive work lunch.
The partner and trainee, who are not named in the tribunal's judgment, attended the firm's Christmas lunch in 2017, followed by drinks at another location.
At the second venue, the trainee (known as Person A) recorded a video showing the partner singing a song, with the lyrics: “[Person A’s] vagina is lovely. I like it. It likes it up the arse but also in the vag”.
The romantic poet accompanied his insightful lyrics with gestures of "moving his right fist upwards at the start of the song" and "subsequently cupping his right hand and moving it twice in front of his genitals for the latter part."
The trainee submitted a formal complaint to the firm around 18 months later, in June 2019, which contained a number of grievances including the song captured on video. The firm launched an internal investigation.
At the SDT hearing, the panel noted other interactions between the partner and trainee: the two had only met once in person prior to the party, emails between them were "informal and jokey" and the tribunal found that they likely "communicated in the same friendly and jokey manner in person." The tribunal also noted that the partner was 4 years older than the trainee.
Regarding the video, the partner argued that he had sang the song in response to a challenge by the trainee to say something "outrageous" or words to that effect. However, Person A denied this.
The tribunal said it found it “difficult” to reconcile this evidence given that the offending video started as soon as the partner began singing Person A’s name and ended as soon as he stopped. A multimedia forensic scientist’s expert evidence (which was unchallenged) was that the video had been “trimmed”, although Person A denied this.
The tribunal said that, on the balance of probabilities, it was not satisfied that the partner had "launched into the offending song unprovoked and absent any interaction with Person A immediately prior to so doing”.
“His misconduct was spontaneous and reactive to the same," said the tribunal. "However, the words used, the gestures that elected to deploy, the fact that he was a partner, at a work event, with colleagues present and in a public setting represented a grave breach of his position of trust.”
The tribunal said that the partner's likely drunken state "did not vitiate the direct control" that he had in response to such an "invitation" to say something "naughty/outrageous".
The panel held that while the partner did not intend to cause harm, it was “eminently foreseeable” that his “very serious” misconduct would do so.
The tribunal fined the partner £23,000 and ordered that he pay costs of £22,800.