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Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal

18 June 07

Reports relating to Edward Lindsay Acton and George Alexander Wilson; William Michael Lewis

Edward Lindsay Acton and George Alexander Wilson

A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Edward Lindsay Acton, solicitor, 24 Shore Street, MacDuff (“first respondent”) and George Alexander Wilson, solicitor, 16 East Church Street, Buckie (“second respondent”). The Tribunal found the first respondent guilty of professional misconduct in cumulo in respect of his acting in a conflict of interest situation in the purchase of a property; his failure to progress the purchase and his continuing to act when a conflict of interest arose in relation to a title defect; his placing the interests of his client first and deliberately delaying settlement of the transaction to suit his own client’s convenience, all in breach of rules 3 and 5 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Practice Rules 1986 and article 3 of the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors 2002; and his failure to respond to a mandate, failure to deliver copies of pleadings and failure to respond to correspondence from a fellow solicitor.

The Tribunal found the second respondent guilty of professional misconduct in cumulo in respect of his acting in a conflict of interest situation in the sale of a property; his failure to progress the sale and his continuing to act when a conflict of interest situation arose, all in breach of rules 3 and 5 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Practice Rules 1986 and article 3 of the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors 2002; and his failure properly to advise his clients that the firm was acting on behalf of both parties and that if a dispute arose they would require to consult an independent solicitor or solicitors, all in breach of rule 5(2) of the 1986 Rules. The Tribunal censured the first respondent and fined him in the sum of £850, and censured the second respondent and fined him in the sum of £500.

The Tribunal considered that the respondents’ conduct clearly amounted in cumulo to professional misconduct. The rules of conduct are there to protect solicitors from themselves and to protect clients. The respondents are experienced solicitors and should have known better. It was an unusual transaction but it was clear that the Society understood why they had acted in a potential conflict of interest situation to start with. The Tribunal was concerned that even after the problem arose, the transaction was delayed to have the title taken in the name of the son of one of the clients, which delayed matters to the detriment of the other client. The Tribunal did not consider that this was just a technical conflict of interest situation. The Tribunal however took account of the fact that the respondents had been in practice for a long period of time and had been well intentioned. The Tribunal also noted the reference lodged and took account of the respondents’ early plea.

In connection with the first respondent’s failure to reply to correspondence and the mandate from another firm of solicitors, the Tribunal considered that a solicitor has a professional obligation to address issues and respond to correspondence.

William Michael Lewis

A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against William Michael Lewis, solicitor, 1 Hope Park Terrace, Edinburgh (“the respondent”). The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his persistent failure timeously to record dispositions, standard securities and discharges of standard securities, his failure to respond to the reasonable requests of the Society for information, and his failure to keep his client fully informed in connection with a transaction and failure to respond to the reasonable enquiries of his client for information. The Tribunal censured the respondent and fined him in the sum of £7,500.

The Tribunal was extremely concerned by the number of instances of late recording of deeds, particularly the 26 cases which had been outstanding for more than one year. A solicitor acting for a purchaser in a conveyancing transaction has a duty to record or register within a reasonable time after payment of the purchase price, a valid disposition in favour of his client and has a duty to the lender to record a standard security within a reasonable time of cashing a loan cheque. Failure to do so leaves the purchaser uninfeft and the lender unsecured and open to risk. The whole purpose of solicitors being involved in conveyancing transactions is to ensure that the interests of their clients are protected. The respondent failed in his duty to do this. The Tribunal was also concerned with regard to the respondent’s failure to reply to the Society and keep his client informed in connection with the transaction.

The Tribunal considered that a lot of the respondent’s difficulties were due to the fact that he was seriously unstaffed. The Tribunal advised the respondent that this was unsatisfactory and suggested that he engage extra staff to cope with the business. The Tribunal was concerned with regard to both the reputation of the profession and protection of the public, and seriously considered restricting the respondent’s practising certificate. The Tribunal however took into account the fact that the respondent was a sole practitioner and that to restrict his practising certificate would put him out of business. The Tribunal also took account of the psychiatric report and the fact that the respondent had co-operated with the fiscal in dealing with the complaint. The Tribunal accordingly imposed a censure plus a fine of £7,500.