Spiderman 650

Ashley Wilson vs Ashley Wilson

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has fined a solicitor for secretly working with the other side against his own firm in a contentious property transaction.

John Wright was one of three partners at London firm Ashley Wilson when the firm was acting for the sellers of a property valued at £1.8m. 

Under the memorandum of sale, Wright was listed as acting for the buyers, and it was noted that he had a close friendship with them.

However, it was agreed that Ashley Wilson would only act for the sellers, and not both sides, due to the potential conflict of interest.

The buyers instructed another firm, NC Morris, to act on the transaction. However, unbeknown to Ashley Wilson, Wright provided instructions on the matter to the other firm. 

After contracts were exchanged in April 2016, but two days prior to completion, NC Morris sent Ashley Wilson a letter claiming that the selling agent had mis-described the property, which had caused the buyer to offer too much.

Ashley Wilson rejected the argument, the buyers failed to complete on time, and the sellers served a notice to complete. 

Wright secretly assisted NC Morris with the preparation of a pre-action protocol letter it sent to Ashley Wilson, which sought damages of £589k on the basis of alleged misrepresentation of the property (and the difference between the agreed price and the actual value).

The tribunal heard that Wright told the buyers' solicitor to be "more aggressive" in the pre-action letter to his own firm, and suggested that they should "go hard" with a claim for damages against the sellers. He also attended conferences with counsel. 

The sale of the property eventually went ahead, although the buyer did so without prejudice to a possible claim. However, the matter did not proceed to litigation.

Wright left Ashley Wilson in 2020, but a former colleague found his file for the matter in the office and, after giving it a read, the firm reported him to the SRA.

Wright admitted that his conduct "fell below the high standards of a solicitor in practice." However, he also claimed it was "regrettable" that the firm had decided to act for the sellers, given that his colleagues knew of his close relationship with the buyers. He said it would have been "more prudent to advise them to seek alternative representation." He also argued that the allegations of mis-description were "well founded."

The tribunal said that Wright was motivated "to facilitate the purchase of the property and attempt to reduce the price for his own and the purchasers' benefit, to the detriment of and in conflict with" his own firm's client.

The SDT also said that Wright's "misconduct was planned and in direct contradiction to the agreement" with Ashley Wilson "not to act for the purchaser."

The tribunal noted that in mitigation it was an isolated incident and agreed that a fine was an appropriate sanction. The panel approved an agreement between the SRA and Wright that he be fined £32,000 and pay £15,600 in costs.

Tip Off ROF


What??? 10 March 23 09:10

How on earth is this not a striking off offence?  This is an experienced partner knowingly and deliberately acting against the interests of his own firm’s client.  

How does this compare with the many juniors who have been hung, drawn and quartered by the SDT for covering up minor mistakes?

Anonymous 10 March 23 09:29

Jaysus. That's a pretty fundamental breach of Rule 1 of the code - and a deliberate and mendacious one at that. Talk about bringing the profession into disrepute...

He should not have acted for the sellers in the first place - which is bad enough a conflict - but being a secret turncoat in litigation is striking off territory.

lawyer.I.am.ROF 10 March 23 09:53

Should Wright's fellow partners just not have agreed to act for the sellers knowing of his relationship with the buyers? It seems they are the ones who acted poorly in this situation

Anon 10 March 23 09:55

So attempted fraud is fine, but parking in the wrong spot because you're a broke trainee means strike off?

Anon 10 March 23 10:06

Once again the SDT elects not to properly sanction a clearly dodgey partner who has no business representing the profession.  Once again the obvious point is that the SDT have little willingness to aggressively punish those with the financial means to push back!

Anonymous Anonymous 10 March 23 13:24

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was too soft in this case. The actions in this case gives a bad impression of the legal profession.

Anonymous 10 March 23 15:38

What everyone else said.

This person carries on as a member of the profession, but if he had left his briefcase on the tube, he would have been struck off (ok, he would have been struck off if he were young, Asian, and female).


Dunc 10 March 23 16:45

What kind of message does that send when the SDT gives a solicitor a slap on the wrist for DEFRAUDING HIS OWN CLIENT yet they’ll strike off trainees and juniors if they so much as sneeze the wrong way?

Anon 11 March 23 04:18

It’s well past time for the SRA to explain the inconsistencies in its decisions relating to offences featuring dishonesty. It seems to be little more than a roll of the dice with respect to what the penalty will be (with, bizarrely, the more senior you are, the less severe the penalty, even though you should know better and are likely under less pressure from those more senior in relation to committing the offence). Court judgments and arbitrations work on the basis of past precedent. How is it that the SRA doesn’t work on the same basis? Madness.

Anonymous 13 March 23 22:50

The SDT are too busy investigating male partners and their consensual relationships.

Feudal of Tunbridge Wells 16 March 23 16:53

@Anon 11 March 23 04:18

The real problem is that there are no inconsistencies in its decisions relating to offences featuring dishonesty. Partner get a "naughty, naughty" while trainees are put down like crazed animals. It is consistent, for sure. It can only be a question about time before someone tips off the Grauniad, who is very receptive to such matters.

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