The SRA has defended its decision to prosecute Claire Matthews, emphasising that she lied to her colleagues on several occasions. 

The junior solicitor from Capsticks was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after losing a briefcase containing sensitive documents on a train, before confessing to her supervisor a week later. 

Matthews is currently appealing against the SDT's decision with the help of lawyers working pro bono, and has raised over £10,000 in crowd funded donations. 

In its letter to the SRA, the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society said it was "alarmed" to read Matthews' account of her mental health in the judgment


bang

Hard to know who's innocent and who's guilty these days.


The junior lawyer had told the tribunal that after losing the briefcase she barely ate or slept and attempted to take her own life by drinking bleach.

The JLD was also "remarkably concerned" that the SRA prosecuted "a potentially suicidal person", on the assumption that the regulator knew about Matthews' mental fragility in advance of the hearing.

In his response, Paul Philip, the Chief Executive of the SRA, said that he was “satisfied that our handling of this case was appropriate”.

“We recognise the impact regulatory proceedings can have on the health of the individual concerned, and this is obviously an issue of great concern to us”, wrote Philip.

But while the SRA was able to adapt its procedures and “apply reasonable adjustments” where appropriate, “neither a person’s junior position, nor health, will be an answer where the person has been found guilty of culpable dishonesty”.  

Critics had overlooked the salient point, suggested Philip. “In this case, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that this is not about a solicitor leaving a briefcase on a train, but that the evidence of her colleagues was that she lied to them on a number of occasions about the matter”, he said.

 

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Comments

Marshall Hall 29 May 20 08:50

Can Mr Philip kindly explain what 'Culpable Dishonesty' means?

Is he FINALLY accepting that there are different kinds/levels of dishonesty that they and the SDT need to take account of?

I see that he hasn't explained why the SRA took NO action against Capsticks (their sole-panel provider) for their culpable failure to inform the SRA of the alleged lies by Ms Matthews at the time they became aware of them...

Crabsticks 29 May 20 09:20

I would like to see the scoring sheet for the procurement of Capsticks as provider to the SRA.

Anonymous 29 May 20 10:28

I know this won't find much love in here, but there are 2 main issues for me.

 

1. Strike off was an acceptable decision reached by the disciplinary board. I see some weight in the argument that a suspension and return with restrictions may have also been appropriate, but strike off was available to them and dishonesty was established. 

 

2. There is something that doesn't smell right about Capsticks' relationship as a supply-chain provider. Their ability to walk away from this without punishment is suspicious and needs to be addressed. 

Sumoking 29 May 20 11:22

Critics had overlooked the salient point, suggested Philip

Excellent analysis by the SRA yet again. Nobody is saying Charlotte Parkinson is innocent and did not royally fuck up.

What has brought this to a head is the SRA happily presiding over a system that puts junior staff in vulnerable position and then holding them to account far more vehemently and it seems vindictively than it does senior members of the profession. Story after story has come out of trainees and nqs being pressure cookered or outright bullied into a corner and instead of the SRA doing it's actual fucking job of regulating law firms, it hones on the weakest people it can and hammers them. 

In this case they have gone so far as to shield their mates at Capsticks and they touted a monster costs bill without batting an eye. 

And that's before we even get near the odd executive pipeline that seems to be pure croynism out of the GMC into cushy SRA jobs. 

Magic grandad 29 May 20 11:39

Culpable dishonesty is new on me too.

Is "culpable" another word for her mens rea?

If that is the case what did the SDT satisfy themselves of?

That she was intentionally or recklessly or negligently dishonest. Following on from that does it follow strike off for intentional dishonesty and suspension for other types - just wondering?

Anon 29 May 20 11:40

Three things reading this:

 

1.  "As you will be aware though, neither a person’s junior position, nor health, will be an answer where the person has been found guilty of culpable dishonesty. "

This is rather begging the question, isn't it?  Of course if a person has been found guilty, they are guilty.  I think the point the JLD was making is that procedurally, in determining guilt and/or in terms of sanction, it absolutely should be relevant.  If you take a very hard line on determining guilt ('any lie is dishonest') then you need flexibility in sanctions, or vice versa.

 

2.  "Those such as yourselves whose role is to support solicitors and promote good practice, play an important role. Our enforcement procedures only come into play where things have already gone wrong at the firm or for an individual, and measures must be taken to protect the public."

Is the SRA really saying that it has no responsibility to prevent things going wrong (only to punish when they do), and that toxic work environments aren't something which has gone wrong?  If so, disband the SRA as - by its own account - it can't protect the public.

 

3.  "We have introduced rules which make it clear that we will not tolerate anyone we regulate attempting to prevent an individual from making a report, or to subject them to detrimental treatment for having done so."

As well is should.  But that's not the point.  The SRA needs to stop punishing whistleblowers as well, as fear of being struck off remains a barrier to reporting.  The SRA says that it takes this into account in mitigation, but when strike off is the benchmark, mitigation isn't going to help.  See the Scott case.

 

Anonymous 29 May 20 11:45

 

I agree Anonymous 10.28 

 

It is believed that X, the person who’s data was lost, won their claim against the SRA in which Capsticks represented the SRA.  

 

There is clearly much background to this in respect of X’s case but I fear that the lack of reporting about X’s case is meaning that the whole picture is not being established. 

 

Extremely irresponsible when Claire Matthews is requesting charity donations to fund her appeal. 

 

How can charity apply to a situation where the full story isn’t known. 

 

I have seen a few comments on the Law Gazette attempting to release some details. They are promptly deleted. 

Ahem 29 May 20 12:34

Very interesting this "culpable dishonesty" as it suggests there is an non-cuplable form of dishonesty. Further, was she dishonest or did she lack integrity. Appaz these two points are different and often the latter applies to partner level lawyers who get a smack on the wrist.  

Double standards 29 May 20 12:34

I agree Sumoking 1122, there are too many examples of junior lawyers and trainees having the book thrown at them by the SRA, whilst there are many examples of kid gloves with senior members of the profession (who by the SRAs own criteria they take into account when deciding whether to sanction for breach of their principles, should have a higher standard to reach, the SRAs website makes this clear). I speak as someone who asked the SRA to look into some really bad and obviously dishonest behaviour from management including the GC of a big UK law firm, where they refused to do so and allowed management just to self certify their had been no dishonesty.

The Red Herring 29 May 20 13:04

The mental health and work pressures are red herings in this matter IMHO. Going full on nuclear seems inappropriate even if the SRA is riding on a mighty fine high horse. The salient point is that a slap on the wrist or even a suspension and return with restrictions would have been available and more commensurate in the circumstances even if a strike-off was available as a sanction. Professional standards apply at all levels of the profession, but a strike-off and the hefty fees seem cruel and excessive in the circumstances. I donated on that basis out of a perceived sense of injustice.

Dave 29 May 20 13:51

The SRA has now replied to request made under its "Transparency Code".  The request asks for information about X v SRA, the loss of X's personal data and the consequences of that loss.  ROF has a copy of the SRA's reply, but has not published it.

I'm surprised that the SRA felt it wise to respond to the JLD when it knows that Ms Matthews is pursuing an appeal to the High Court.  Mr Philip's letter fails to explain why the SRA and SDT have not introduced fitness to practise rules which might avoid the need to terminate someone's career in a situation like this.  He also seems to think that it is for the SRA to decide when medical evidence is needed.  That is a matter which should be decided by the SDT, not the SRA.  Here, the SDT appears to have given no thought to adjourning the case so that medical evidence could be obtained (at the SRA's expense, if necessary).

Honest John 29 May 20 14:16

Does it mean that if you tell a lie you are dishonest? if so then every solicitor in the country including me should be struck off. If on the other hand you only get struck off for a dishonest lie would someone from the SRA or SDT like to explain what the difference is between an honest and a dishonest lie. The whole purpose (which seems to have been completely lost) in striking someone off is whether this one off incident means that she cannot be trusted and a member of the public would see her as someone who if allowed to remain as solicitor would lower the reputation of solicitors as a whole.

Frankly it would not affect me employing her and if she is good enough at her job I think her clients would simply feel sorry for the predicament she found herself in.

Anonymous 29 May 20 15:28

In response to Dave 13.51 would be interesting to see that response from the SRA. When was the request made, no delays due to Covid? 

Dave Davies 29 May 20 17:29

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal instructed the SRA to investigate a complaint of dishonesty against the Vice President of the Law Society. The point blank refused claiming a previous ruling in a civil court stated that there was no dishonesty. This is a clear breach of the SRA own rules which states that Civil or Criminal proceedings cannot stop a regulatory process.

The entire legal regulatory system is a sham yet most legal professionals  turn a blind eye.

Its only when they become effected will they realise the extent of the utter corruption.

UK Justice is Broken; see the petition

Anonymous 29 May 20 19:00

It appears that X has suffered a lot to pursue an action against the SRA as a litigant in person and be successful! I wonder what X will do as a result of all this, many would like to hear X’s story. By the sound of it the full story would expose a lot. I hope X comes out with their full story soon. I think the media needs to focus on the bigger picture not a one sided charity. 

Capsticks 29 May 20 22:16

And Capsticks who failed to report were not sanctioned.  It is all very cosy isn’t it?

a perfectly normal human being 30 May 20 05:05

Actively considering handing back my practising certificate and coming off the roll tbh

Lord Sumption 30 May 20 10:32

a perfectly normal human being 30 May 20 05:05

Actively considering handing back my practising certificate and coming off the roll tbh

 

Oh no.  Not you Laz.

In a year of too much loss this would be the greatest loss of all.

They told me Heraclitus, they told me you were dead.

They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.

I wept as I remembered how often you and I

Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

 

But I will follow your cycling/ski-instructing/journalism/brewing/body-building/underwater fireman career with great interest.

Good luck fellow!

Suella 30 May 20 12:53

Sumoking 29 May 20 11:22

What has brought this to a head is the SRA happily presiding over a system that puts junior staff in vulnerable position 

What do you want the SRA to do to change the system?  What powers do they have to change the way firms manage themselves?  If they don't have those powers, what changes do you suggest are made?

If you think the SRA are incompetent do you think it is wise to give them greater influence on the way firms are run?

Pearly Queen 30 May 20 13:51

In the Bolton case the Tribunal suspended him for 2 years. He appealed successfully and a fine was substituted. The Law Society appealed and the suspension was reinstated. Mr Bolton had distributed mortgage money without completing the purchase. Context is everything. Mr Bolton is now free to practice unlike Ms Matthews. The trust referred to by the Court is in respect of the publics need to trust the solicitor eg the mortgage company in the Bolton case. The case is fact specific and yet we have one quote which is used time and time again to put fear into the profession.  The SRA should survey the public using particular examples such as Claire. The JDL missed a trick by linking this to her mental health and junior status. It is an isdue that applies to us all. We live in a civil society except when it comes to being regulated by the SRA when what we are faced with is almost gladitorial. Thumbs up eg Capsticks you live thumbs down you don't. This is not a fair system. The problems are systemic and those who are able to make a difference eg the Law Society, The LSB, know it but choose to sit on their hands looking in the other direction. The SRA are happy as the decision instills fear in the profession and helps them in their subjucation of those they pick off for special treatment. The time for a wider debate is now.

Anonymous 30 May 20 15:13

The SRA and SDT could learn about of lessons from the Inns of Court when it comes to disciplinary proceedings.

 

Ironic how counsel often prosecuted solicitors aware that their own regulator is considerably fairer on barristers.

Anonymous 31 May 20 10:30

The SDT are NOT independent of the SRA.
The SDT are administered by a Private Ltd company, the SDTAL which is paid £3m a year by the Law Society.
The same senior members of the SDT are also the directors of the Private Ltd 
company; both are run by the same people . 
Edward Nally is President of the SDT and Chairman of the SDTAL.
He responds to complaints about the SDT in his position as Chairman of the SDTAL which is required to be independent.
This is a breach of Public Law.
There is NO independent complaints process for the SDT; the so called external complaints process for the SDT is managed by the SDTAL; the same people.

The SRA is currently part of the Law Society and is fully funded and overseen by them.
They are not independent.The law Society effectively has oversight and funds both the SRA and the SDT (via the SDTAL)
    The 2018 SDT report page 3 it states
‘To ensure that the SDT is (and is perceived to be) independent of The Law Society, the approved regulator of the solicitors profession, and the SRA (The Law Society’s independent regulatory arm), individuals who are employed by or serve as Council or Board Members of either body cannot be appointed as Tribunal Members.’
This clearly confirms that there should be no connection between SDT Tribunal Members and staff and the Law Society or the SRA and that it is a legal requirement to ensure that the SDT is and is perceived to be independent of the Law Society. This is extremely important as the Law Society is a representative body for solicitors, but even more so when the complaint being considered is against the Vice president/ President of the Law Society.
The SDT conducts regular user group meetings. These meetings are held in private and there is no reporting of who attends or what is discussed. It is know that these meetings are attended by senior members of the SDT, The Law Society and the SRA.
There is no independence of the so called regulators.
UK Justice is Broken . see the petition

Redpencil 31 May 20 23:56

The SDT is legally independent of the Law Society and the SRA.  The problem is that it relies on the Law Society for its funding and on the SRA for its workload.  That's where its practical independence is compromised.  It's may not be easy to remain impartial if one party appears before you every day (and usually appears by the same solicitors).  That is not a healthy situation.

Ironically, even the SRA has accused the SDT of apparent bias: it suggested that, because the SDT sits in panels where lawyers outnumber laypeople, there is a perception of bias towards solicitors.  That is, of course, an absurd suggestion, given that the SDT convicts almost every solicitor who appears before it.

One of the responses to the SDT's recent consultation on the supply of documents to non-parties called for the membership and minutes of the User Group to be made public.  The SDT - which tried to avoid publishing any of the consultation responses - has ignored that suggestion.  It's wholly unacceptable for any court or tribunal to have a user group which doesn't name its members and publish proper minutes.

a perfectly normal human being 01 June 20 04:31

“What do you want the SRA to do to change the system?  What powers do they have to change the way firms manage themselves?  If they don't have those powers, what changes do you suggest are made?”

What they indisputably have the power to do is refrain from misusing their enforcement powers in this manner to oppress powerless juniors who are merely pawns of the system. If they can’t change the system then they should just recognise its iniquity and butt out of being part of it. 

Sumption 01 June 20 11:05

a perfectly normal human being 01 June 20 04:29

Don’t worry Sumpers I’ve no intention of quitting ROF!

Thank the Lord.

It was bad enough when Bowie died.

Still confused 01 June 20 13:18

The letter asserts CM 'lied ...on a number of occasions'. Yes that is correct but look at the SDT findings:

17:15 31 May 2018 – CM lied in conversation

18:24 31 May 2018 – CM lied in an email

09:00 1 June 2018 – CM tells the truth

In a space of less than 16 hours CM is found to have lied and then come clean. The SDT did not find that CM lied at any time before 17:15 on 31 May 2018. This is not about lying it is about failing to report (Paul Philip has completely misunderstood the emphasis of para 35 in the findings). A failure to report is absolutely connected to mental health issues and lack of support for trainees and NQs. It should not be a strike off offence! 

 

 

Vinegar Drunkard 04 June 20 11:43

Some retarded comments on this thread.

She deserved to be struck off and if it hadn't been done would be a danger to her colleagues and the public.

The attitude of young lawyers suggesting they shouldn't be held accountable for their actions and that joe public should fund their ego driven appeals is quite telling.

If someone is unable to tell the truth, they are simply unfit for the law.

 

Still confused 04 June 20 21:06

@Vinegar Drunkard

presumably I’m one of those who made ‘retarded comments’ given the content of your post.

how is someone who lied on 2 occasions and then told the truth first thing the next morning more of a danger to colleagues and the public than someone who regularly gets drunk and then decides to drive a car? 
 

Drink driving is not a strike off offence as clearly demonstrated by the SDT in very recent cases. Lying in this context shouldn’t be either.

 

 

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