Opinions and Legal Insights

In which losing a briefcase turns out far worse than a headbutt!

Two recent disciplinary cases against lawyers have produced very contrasting outcomes.
Firstly, there is, yet again, the tragedy of a career in tatters because of desperate attempts at a cover up. The background to this case is, to be honest, the stuff of everyone’s nightmare. Claire Matthews did not miss a deadline; she did not get the law wrong; she fell asleep on a train. Unfortunately, this caused her to leave behind a locked brief case that contained highly sensitive documents. Her client was the SRA.
She did not report the incident to her employers, Capsticks, for a week in the hope that she could retrieve the lost briefcase. She lied to a colleague that she had left it at her new flat and that she would return it. In a later email she said that she had left it on a train that morning when in fact this had happened the previous week. Anyone who has followed these stories will know that this was all going to end badly.
There was evidence before the SDT that she was in a very bad state following the incident. She told the tribunal that she had “drank alcohol to excess in order block out the event. At her lowest point, the Respondent said that she had resorted to drinking bleach in an attempt to end her life.”  She said that she acted in panic and that there was no deliberate attempt to mislead.
The tribunal found that –
“The damage to the reputation of the profession by the Respondent’s misconduct was significant as the public would trust a solicitor not to conceal the loss of data by telling untruths to their colleagues and their employer. The Respondent’s conduct was a significant departure from the complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness expected of a solicitor.”
She was struck off and ordered to pay £10k costs.
This does seem a harsh outcome. But is stark reminder again of the need to be completely open if you make a mistake. To leave a bag on a train is forgivable. It can happen to us all. To then mislead your employers takes the incident to another level. To confess is painful. To lose your career is a tragedy. The SDT have again made it clear that honesty and integrity are paramount.
It is interesting that the second case, involving a member of the bar, has a very different outcome. It was a very different case. The report in Legal Futures opens with the unforgettable words –
“A senior barrister who headbutted a junior female member of chambers during a drunken row, leaving her on the ground with blood all over her face, has been suspended for three months by a Bar disciplinary tribunal.
It seems that both barristers were drunk.

The Bar Disciplinary Tribunal, in suspending him said that a “signal needed to be sent” that such conduct was not acceptable. I should say, in passing, that Everton FC player Duncan Ferguson spent 4 months in HMP Barlinnie for headbutting an opponent when playing for Glasgow Rangers!

This is nothing to do with the case of Ms Matthews. But you could understand members of the public wondering why a young solicitor does more damage to the reputation of the profession by panicking after losing a briefcase, than a senior barrister who headbutts a woman colleague in the street.

Just saying.