Beckwith's victorious fightback

Ex-Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith has succeeded in 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.

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".

The High Court has now overturned the SDT's decision. It found that the tribunal was wrong in ruling that Beckwith had breached Principle 2 of the SRA Principles 2011, by failing to act with integrity. The court said the tribunal had concluded, rightly, that no abuse of authority had occurred. "The requirement to act with integrity obliged the Appellant not to act so as to take unfair advantage of Person A by reason of his professional status," said the court. "On the findings made by the Tribunal, that had not happened.”

The High Court also ruled that the SDT was wrong to find that Beckwith had breached Principle 6 by undermining public trust in him and in the provision of legal services.

The court said that while Beckwith's conduct had affected his own reputation, the tribunal had provided "no explanation" as to how his conduct had affected either his "own reputation as a provider of legal services" or "the reputation of his profession." 

The High Court therefore allowed the appeal, and set aside the order that Beckwith pay a fine of £35,000 and the SRA's costs of £200,000; describing the latter as an "alarming" sum.

"Mr Beckwith is pleased that the High Court has reversed the limited findings against him made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal," said Beckwith's solicitor Nick Brett.

"We will look at the High Court’s judgment carefully before considering any next steps," a spokesman for the SRA told RollOnFriday.

Freshfields declined to comment.

For the full judgment, click here.

Tip Off ROF


Magic Grandpa 04 December 20 09:07

Well that is the SRA well and truly pistol whipped by the High Court. The SDT was trying to be too politically correct and tried to fudge the case instead of throwing the case out at first instance.

Ouch 04 December 20 09:13

Looks like the SRA has been well and truly publicly spanked by the court. Quite right too. They are too focussed on right on virtue signalling and hounded Beckwith in a shocking manner. Whilst at the same ignoring a number of shocking examples of downright dishonesty in the profession (unless of course the alleged perpetrator is an easy target trainee or paralegal who makes a mistake and panicks under pressure).

To be clear, I don’t condone what Beckwith did. The point is that consensual sexual encounters between adults happen all the time. There was no evidence at all that she was coerced and it was nothing to do with SRA. 

Anonymous 04 December 20 09:18

So he was professionally in the right, but morally in the wrong.

There are difficult questions about where the dividing line is between the two, so its good to see the Courts clearing this up.

Mary Whitehouse 04 December 20 09:22

Pleasing to see a moral judgment and an effective fine of £230,000 for it substituted by a judicial one.

Pearly Queen 04 December 20 09:25

The SRA need to go back and have another look at the Legal Services Act to rappraise itself of the purpose of regulation. It can then get on with the job of protecting the public and the reputation of the profession. Unprincipled it flounders around climbing onto one bandwagon after the the other.

Anonymouse 04 December 20 09:27

A disgraceful intervention in a private matter between consenting adults - the morality of this guy's conduct had no bearing on his roles either as a client-facing solicitor or as an officer of the court.

Anonymous 04 December 20 09:36

Too bloody right!

Occasionally bonking one of the juniors is literally the best part of this otherwise humdrum job.

So long as I'm not blackmailing them or otherwise applying some kind of "here's how you qualify around here" coercion tactics then it's absolutely no business of the SRA's. If we want to get drunk and act like horny chimpanzees in our free time then that's entirely up to us as adults (drunken, stupid, stressed, overworked, undersexed adults, but adults nonetheless).

Get out of my work drinks (/Christmas Party) and go back to striking off high-street solicitors for accidentally filing a form late because they were overworked and going through a family bereavement at the time, and didn't have a small army of coked up oxbridge trainees to do it for them while the photocopier was being fixed. Or whatever else it is that the SRA fills its days with when it isn't trying to strike absurd wokeist poses.

Anon 04 December 20 09:46

What is very telling is the selective morality of the SRA.  They didn't prosecute him for cheating on his wife, which would also be a private matter and none of the SRA's business.

Hey, Nonny Mouse! 04 December 20 10:06

So does this mean that my supervising partner is going to re-start his advances?

Looney Tunes 04 December 20 10:16

Another case of the establishment perpetuating white privilege and failing to tackle the patriarchy in the profession and society. 

Anonymous 04 December 20 10:50

@Looney Tunes - you are right though...

Can you imagine the narrative if this guy was black? We'd have been treated to all of the usual narratives about 'predatory' black men taking advantage of vulnerable white women, whose virtue society was obliged to protect. 

Absolutely no chance of a BAME lawyer getting such a sympathetic hearing from an (again, overwhelmingly white) bench of judges if they'd done the exact same thing.

Anonymous 04 December 20 11:44

@10:16 and 10:50

Hello to the weekly racist comments on "white privilege" and "patriarchy".

Get a life, twats. You are the real racists around here.

Stop creating divides and essentially trying to promote BAME interests above those of others.

Source: Me. A non-white solicitor.

Anonymous 04 December 20 12:24

I don't believe for a moment that 11:44 is a 'non-white solicitor', the idea that you could be a BAME person in the profession in 2020 and not recognise that it is incredibly skewed towards the interests of white practitioners - in a way that is objectively demonstrable - is simply not credible.

Strongly suspect that you are a middle aged white male who is just pretending a diverse identity to try and give your outdated views some credibility.

Paul 04 December 20 12:27

Anon 10:50.  The story doesn't say person A was white only that she was female.  You appear to be making assumptions about her ethnicity, which is somewhat ironic given the rest of what you say. 

Anonymous 04 December 20 12:37

Sensible decision, and one that will give hope to other male victims of sexual harassment.

Anonymous 04 December 20 13:10

And we have to wait for the US Dept. of Justice to take action against UK law firms laundering dirty money which finances the drug trade, human trafficking and corruption. Come on SRA - do your job and deal with serious misconduct, not drunken fumblers shagging after work.

Hey, Nonny Mouse! 04 December 20 13:55

Nonny @ 10:45. 

If it got the pr!ck struck off it might have been worth it! 

Anon 04 December 20 14:31

It’s the SDT surely that has been shown up here, given it handed down the judgment that had been appealed, not the SRA.  

Anonymous 04 December 20 15:12

@14:140:  white-adjacent, doesn't count.

Nul point at the diversity olympics these days.

Anonymous 04 December 20 15:23

I resent ‘Person A’ effectively wasting public money to settle her own score with a guy that didn’t call her back after she put out! SHE is the reason real problems highlighted by the #metoo movement aren’t being taken more seriously/addressed. 

Toby Greenlord, Freeman on the Bench 04 December 20 15:27

Holy Cow!

Even I can tell that Looney Tunes and his *cough* "friend" are the same person trolling and my legal experience is limited to being a litigant in person at TV licence trials.

How do any of you keep your jobs?

Open Minded 04 December 20 15:40

Why does everyone assume he cheated on his wife? Maybe they have an open marriage and she is shagging people up and down the city as well (but obviously that’s not an issue for the SRA as they are clearly as sexist as f***). 

Human 04 December 20 15:44

Did the court dispute the finding of fact that ability to consent was impaired?

Did the court specify which personal failings of a lawyer would bring the profession into disrepute? Would a conviction for rape be a purely private matter? Is a criminal conviction required?

Anonymous 04 December 20 15:59

@Human, actually the court was very clear about those matters.

If you could be bothered to look up the judgement and read it you would find that the writers of it very specifically talked about how their views on the matter would have been different if the consensual sexual activity had taken place in a location visible to the public. Because that would have risked bringing the profession into disrepute.

They were unanimously of the opinion that it is not acceptable to roger paralegals, trainees, or impressionable juniors in public toilets, alleyways adjacent to hostelries, or the balconies and verandas of private residences which overlook public streets. But outside of those kind of venues you can do whatever you like so long as the other party(s) are ok with it.

So long as you pay for a taxi and then remember to pull the curtains once you get home (/ to Travelodge) then it's all good. But no hanky panky before then.

Like I say, if you had read the judgement then you would know. It's really very clear.

Anonymous 04 December 20 16:29

Hey, Nonny Mouse! @ 13:55 - yes, unfortunately encouraging advances in the hope of getting someone struck afterwards is common. In your case, if you haven't already done so  I'd recommend telling him you're not interested (unless you are).

Anon 05 December 20 22:25

@ “I resent ‘Person A’ effectively wasting public money to settle her own score with a guy that didn’t call her back after she put out!”

She didn’t.  She didn’t bring the case.  She was a witness.  The SRA brought the case.   

Anonymous 07 December 20 09:43

4th @ 14.31 - the SRA has been shown up too, for bringing the prosecution in the first place.

Anonymous 07 December 20 21:22

I think Person A has regretted sleeping with Beckwith the next day and has gone to the SRA to try and reduce this regret. Instead of talking her through her feelings and advising that it wasn't a professional conduct matter, they've whipped things up and launched a prosecution. Although Person A was wrong to bring the matter to the SRA, their subsequent actions now mean they owe her (and Beckwith obviously) an apology.

Toby Greenlord, Freeman on the Land 08 December 20 11:00

You knead to do you're research. I'm not doing it for you.

I've told you all ready.

Anonymous 08 December 20 22:55

The best way to look at it Human is that following the court's decision there was no finding of fact by the SDT.

Fake Partner 09 December 20 02:59

I remember reading about this case from across the pond and wondering how the heck a lawyer could be disciplined for going out for a few drinks and having consensual sex. Absolutely laughable, and seems like the High Court agreed. 

Toby Greenlord, Freeman on the Land 09 December 20 09:15

@ Anonymous 08 December 20 16:33

Lazy and can't spell.

Delete your account.

Anonymous 09 December 20 09:32

A propos of nothing may I say that when you take a parody account seriously you make yourself look foolish.  If you know it's a parody account then it makes you look weak and easily provoked as well as foolish.

Just sayin'.

No reason.

Anonymous 09 December 20 11:51

@9.32 - I think the term 'parody account' implies a certain standard which is perhaps not reached.

Just sayin'

Anonymous 11 December 20 07:29

Actually it did happen in Lord Lester's day - he was completely cleared of all wrongdoing by the BSB.

Anonymous 11 December 20 07:55

Thanks 14.11, anything to keep you occupied.

The "I know  you are but what am I" defence.

Never gets old.

Anonymous 11 December 20 08:02

The Beckwith case provides proof, as if any was needed, of the very high amount of false accusations relating to sexual harassment.

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