The Briefcase. Season 2.
A junior solicitor who was struck off the roll after lying about losing a briefcase with sensitive documents, will have her case re-heard by a fresh tribunal.
Claire Matthews was a newly-qualified solicitor at Capsticks when she borrowed a colleague's briefcase to take work documents back home. She fell asleep on the train, leaving the briefcase behind. She initially fibbed to her supervisor about losing the documents, before confessing a week later.
In March 2020, Matthews was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society was critical of the decision and wrote to the SRA, saying it was "alarmed" to read Matthews' account of her mental health in the judgment. 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.
In response to the JLD at the time, the Chief Executive of the SRA Paul Philip said "neither a person's junior position, not health, will be an answer where the person has been found guilty of culpable dishonesty." He added: "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.”
Matthews appealed against the SDT's decision with the help of lawyers working pro bono - Gideon Habel and Emma Walker of Leigh Day, and barristers Mary O’Rourke QC, Mark Harries QC and Rosalind Scott Bell. She has currently raised over £13,000 in crowd funded donations to help her cover the costs if she loses the appeal, with a target of £40,000.
The SRA has now permitted the appeal and quashed the original decision by the SDT, after Matthews’ legal team "obtained and shared expert medical evidence". The case will be re-heard by a new panel of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
"It was clear from the outset of our instruction that Claire’s case raised significant questions about how the SRA, the SDT and the profession itself deal with allegations of misconduct in the context of mental ill-health," said Habel.
The parties have agreed to bear their own costs of the appeal. The SDT's cost order of £10,000 against Matthews has also been quashed.
"‘I am so very overwhelmed by the support and generous donations I have received over the last year," said Matthews. "I could not have envisaged, when I started this appeal, that the decision at the original tribunal could be successfully challenged so as to give me a chance to clear my name on an equal footing with the SRA." She added that the efforts of her pro-bono legal team had been "incredible."
The SRA said: "As set out in the consent order, we agree that in these particular circumstances the new evidence brought forward should be considered by the Tribunal."