The current Solicitors Accounts Rules are the Accounts Rules 2019.
In Law Society –v- Weston Lord Bingham said, “The Accounts Rules existed to afford the public the maximum protection against the improper and unauthorised use of their money and that because of the importance attached to affording that protection and assuring the public that such protection was afforded an onerous obligation is placed on solicitors to ensure that those rules are observed. That was duty which bound solicitors, quite apart from a duty to act honestly. It is important to appreciate that in speaking of “trustworthiness” in that passage (from Bolton) the court had in mind, of course, honesty, but also had in mind the duty of anyone holding anyone else’s money to exercise a proper stewardship in relation to it. That was violated if one solicitor with a duty to see that the rules were observed failed to do so”.
The SDT and the Court has made clear that client account is sacrosanct and should not be touched other than in accordance with the Accounts Rules, that there must be proper systems and controls to ensure compliance with the Accounts Rules, and that it is for the firm’s principals to ensure that proper systems are in place.
It is the obligation of all principals in a firm to ensure compliance with the Accounts Rules.
Rule 1.2 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2019 imposes a strict liability for breaches of the Accounts Rules on all Principals. Lack of knowledge of a breach or delegation of responsibilities to a partner are not defences to an allegation that there has been a breach of the Accounts Rules.
Whilst there is strict liability for breaches to the Accounts Rules, the SDT, and the SRA, may draw a distinction between equity and salaried partners when assessing culpability for the breaches. However, the culpability of any partner will depend on the facts of the case.
If an employee steals money from client account, the partners are liable to make good the shortfall to client account and are also liable for the breaches of the Accounts Rules arising from the shortfall.
The extent of the partners culpability for the breaches of the Accounts Rules will often depend on the extent to which they ensure that proper accounting systems and procedures were in place and that employees were properly supervised.
It is important that any solicitor facing an SRA investigation for breaches of the Accounts Rules should keep in mind the concept of strict liability when answering questions relating to the breaches. I am able to assist solicitors in relation to SRA investigations and SDT proceedings involving allegations of breaches of the Accounts Rules and to provide solicitors with assistance at SRA interviews and advice on issues as to liability and mitigation.
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“Anyone who has been the subject of disciplinary action by a regulator, and in my case the Solicitors Regulation Authority, will know that the impact extends way beyond your working life. It significantly impacts your personal and family life, affecting your mental wellbeing in the process.
Who you chose to advise and represent you is one of the most important decisions you can make.
In my case, after initially representing myself, I realised that this is not an area of law where a practitioner should go it alone, I therefore sought advice from a barrister and solicitor who I understood to be very experienced in this area. Not only was I advised incorrectly, as it subsequently transpired, but they also seemed to have very little regard for the impact the investigation was having on me.
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Within the space of a week, after providing Jonthan with everything he needed, Jonathan discussed the case in detail with me, providing clear and detailed advice on my case and the disciplinary process. He put me at ease and his expertise was, simply put, outstanding. The advice he gave on the likely outcome of my case, was spot on. Jonathan is so much more than what I consider to be an unrivalled expert in his field, he is a person who genuinely cares for his clients. Jonathan “had my back” and at the same time as showing compassion and understanding on a personal level, he remained determined and committed to achieving the best possible outcome in my case. Jonathan did exactly that.
In summary, I cannot recommend Jonathan Goodwin highly enough. It is no exaggeration to say that he was instrumental in getting me through one of the worst experiences of my life”
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I would like to start by saying again how very grateful I am for you and your incredible work. Your diligence, depth of knowledge, exceptional expertise, years of experience and the quality of your drafting and negotiating skills are in my view (and my experience) nothing short of phenomenal.
Thank you so very much for being so dedicated, for taking so much time and attention to understand my position, the details of the case, what I want to achieve and for giving me so much time to explain things thoroughly. I truly say this: you are an absolute credit and role model for how solicitors should be with their clients and cases.
I can only say that I am absolutely overjoyed and will be forever grateful.”