Solicitor Banned After Hundreds of Unpresented Cheques Discovered Following SRA Forensic Investigation

In December 2022, the SDT struck Ian Caunt Wilson from the Roll of Solicitors following a referral by the SRA relating to hundreds of unpresented disbursement cheques found in a filing cabinet. The allegations brought against Wilson centred on breaches of the SRA’s Accounts Rules 2011, SRA Principles 2011, SRA Code of Conduct for Firms, SRA Authorisation Rules 2011, and the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs. In this article, we will discuss the facts of the case against Mr Wilson and why the SDT made the ultimate decision to strike him from the Roll of Solicitors.

Background To The Case

Mr Wilson was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 1969 and established Lyons Wilson Solicitors in equal partnership with Anthony Lyons in 1979. From 1982, Wilson ran Lyons Wilson Solicitors as a sole practitioner with 100% equity and full responsibility for its legal compliance. As was reported by the SDT, Mr Wilson did not hold a Practising Certificate as of the date of his hearing.

Lyons Wilson Solicitors focused mainly on the areas of personal injury but also covered employment, conveyancing, commercial law and private client law.

On 8th May 2019, the SRA received an anonymous report regarding improper practices and the existence of unpresented cheques. Specifically, the report stated that:

a) Following the settlement of personal injury claims, the firm received monies from the defendants’ insurers to settle costs and disbursements.

b) Cheques were then written to the disbursement providers, along with covering letters, and entered onto the relevant client ledgers as having been paid.

c) The letters and attached cheques were placed in a locked cabinet and not sent out to the providers, and

d) The amounts on the cheques appeared on a list of unpresented cheques to make it look as though they had been sent out but not drawn down.

In total, three reports were made to the SRA, including one anonymous report and two from a whistle-blower who was a salaried Partner in the firm.

Following a forensic investigation into the firm, a Forensic Investigation Report (“FIR”) was produced on 2nd November 2020. The Forensic Officer found that as of 31st January 2020, there were 743 unpresented cheques amounting to £233,191.64. These related to:

  • £152,966.66 (479 cheques) for unpaid professional disbursements, including medical providers’ and counsels’ fees, and
  • £80,194.98 (264 cheques) for unpaid business liabilities

The Allegations Against The Respondent

Four specific allegations against Mr Wilson were made and proved, as follows:

1) Failure to pay outstanding professional disbursements representing breaches of

a. Rules 7.1 and 17(1)(b) of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 and
b. Principles 2, 6, 8 and 10 of the SRA Principles 2011.
c. Principles 2 and 5 of the SRA Principles.

2) Failure to run the firm with effective systems and controls and in accordance with sound financial and risk management principles, resulting in unpaid liabilities of £233,191.64, representing breaches of:

a. Principles 6 and 8 of the SRA Principles 2011.
b. Paragraphs 2.1 and 2.4 of the Code of Conduct for Firms and
c. Principle 2 of the SRA Principles

3) Failure to ensure, or take adequate steps to ensure, compliance with the firm’s regulatory obligations representing breaches of:

a. Rule 8.5 (c) and (e) of the SRA Authorisation Rules 2011 and
b. Paragraphs 9.1 and 9.2 of the SRA Code of Conduct for Firms.

4) Failure to co-operate with the SRA during the Intervention into the firm representing breaches of:

a. Paragraphs 7.3 and 7.4 of the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs and
b. Paragraphs 3.2 and 3.3 of the SRA Code of Conduct for Firms.

Mr Wilson did not attend the SDT hearing, and according to the Judgment, he did not submit an Answer to the Rule 12 Statement. Rule 12 Statements set out the allegations and facts relied upon against a solicitor in such cases.

The SDT’s Conclusion And Decision

In terms of culpability, the SDT found Mr Wilson’s conduct had been “self-serving, financially motivated and intended to keep the Firm operating which was to his benefit as sole equity partner”. It also found that his conduct was “planned and repeated over a protracted period of time”. The harm caused was considered to be significant; “Significant and direct harm was caused to the reputation of the profession by Mr Wilson’s persistent, planned and repeated misconduct”. Aggravating features included the fact that Mr Wilson’s misconduct was “deliberate, calculated and repeated over a protracted period of three years”. And finally, the SDT did not find any mitigating features in the case presented.

The SDT concluded, “Weighing all of the factors set out above, the Tribunal classified the misconduct as very high. Mr Wilson misappropriated and failed to safeguard significant amounts of client monies in the sacrosanct client account. His departure from the required standards of integrity, probity and trustworthiness was very serious”.

The SDT decision was to:

a) Strike Mr Wilson from the Roll of Solicitors, and
b) Award costs to the SRA of £33,000.00 to be paid by Mr Wilson,

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