We recently wrote an article about former solicitor Stephen Acres, who was jailed for stealing from his elderly client. This month we will look at the case of solicitor James Allie, who transferred the ownership of his deceased client’s £1m home into his own name. Following an SDT hearing in June 2022, Mr Allie was struck off the Roll of Solicitors. In this article, we will look at the background to the case and what led to Mr Allie being struck off the Roll of Solicitors.
Background to the case
James Allie, 52, was a former partner with the law firm Spence & Horne based in Hackney (now closed). Prior to becoming a partner, he had been a solicitor for four years. He was instructed as an executor for his client, who died in June 2016. According to the details of the case, by November 2016, even before probate had been granted, he had assumed ownership of his client’s £1m home in Brent in North West London. Just two months later, he transferred over £820,000 in funds from his client’s estate into his own bank account, which he subsequently used to purchase a flat for £586,000. After being evicted from his own home, he moved into the flat he had purchased with the proceeds of his client’s estate.
The client had named beneficiaries in her Will, including an education charity that she wanted to receive the largest portion of her residual estate. This led to legal action being heard in the High Court.
Mr Allie was reported to the SRA by his firm after complaints about client funds being transferred into his account. There were also claims of misappropriation after Mr Allie opened a separate bank account in the firm’s name for the payment of fees which he stated were for expenses and disbursements he paid using his own funds.
What were the arguments presented to the SDT?
Mr Allie’s case was referred to the SDT in 2021, with the hearing on 6th June 2022. Mr Allie chose not to attend the hearing or have representation. He denied the allegations made by the SRA of acting dishonestly and without integrity.
In earlier correspondence with the SRA, Mr Allie asserted that his intention was to increase the value of his client’s estate. He stated he intended to convert the property he had transferred into his ownership into flats, thereby increasing the value of the client’s estate and by using her money to invest in more property.
Representing the SRA, Andrew Bullock stated that Mr Allie’s explanation for his actions made “precious little sense and is, in reality, a pack of lies…This is, in reality, an exercise done entirely for his own benefit, not for the benefit of the trust, and the story of this all being about maximising value to the estate is something he comes up with when his actions are discovered”.
Mr Bullock told the Tribunal, “You will have come across instances of quite sophisticated frauds perpetrated by solicitors moving money around and running sham ledgers. Mr Allie took client money and the client’s estate and put them into his name. It really is very much as simple as that”.
In relation to the setting up of a new bank account in the firm’s name for the payment of fees, Mr Bullock stated that such a practice was not permitted and the explanation given by Mr Allie was “bizarre”.
What did the SDT conclude?
Having heard the facts and arguments presented, the Tribunal agreed that Mr Allie had acted dishonestly and without integrity. He was struck off the Roll of Solicitors and ordered to pay £25,000 costs.
The SRA’s Principles make it abundantly clear that SRA members must act:
- in a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law and the proper administration of justice.
- in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons.
- with independence.
- with honesty.
- with integrity.
- in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion.
- in the best interests of each client.
By misappropriating the property and financial assets of his client, Mr Allie breached several of these Principles. The SDT, therefore, had little option than to remove him from the Roll of Solicitors. Given that this is the second case involving the mishandling of large amounts of client funds that we have reported on in as many months, this highlights the need for the SRA and SDT to take decisive action to prevent such dishonest behaviour by other solicitors in the future.
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