Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal
Reports of cases relating to Steven Philip Crommie; Ross Alexander Jones; Leslie Wilson Somerville
Steven Philip Crommie
A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Steven Philip Crommie, solicitor, Dumfries, currently c/o HMP Dumfries. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his deliberately and repeatedly securing from clients of his firm, cash payments which he thereinafter retained for his own personal benefit contrary to the basic principles of honesty, truthfulness and integrity expected of a solicitor, and his breaching rules B1.2, B6.3, B6.7 and B6.12 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011.
The Tribunal ordered that the respondent’s name be struck off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland.
The Tribunal had no hesitation in finding that the respondent’s conduct was sufficiently serious and reprehensible to amount to professional misconduct. It is essential that solicitors are honest and trustworthy at all times. It is extremely detrimental to the reputation of the profession if solicitors act in the way that the respondent did in this case. The client account must be kept sacrosanct at all times. Whatever pressure a solicitor is facing, there is no excuse for taking clients’ money to which a solicitor is not entitled. There is no place in the profession for a solicitor who has stolen from his clients. The Tribunal considered that in a case such as this, involving dishonesty and breach of clients’ trust, there was no alternative but to strike the respondent’s name from the roll.
Ross Alexander Jones
A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Ross Alexander Jones, solicitor, Glasgow. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his acting in a reckless, inaccurate and misleading fashion and allowing his integrity to be called into question by presenting inaccurate and misleading information to the complainers who were at the material time exercising their duties as regulator whilst considering his application for a waiver, and further seeking to mislead the complainers by contending that he had met with a member of the Financial Compliance department in an effort to present compliance with a condition imposed by the complainers when in actual fact, as the respondent well knew, he had not. The Tribunal censured the respondent.
The Tribunal considered this to be a very unfortunate case. The two waiver conditions would not have been difficult for the respondent to meet. The respondent committed an error of judgment in the way he dealt with enquiries made of him by the Society’s Professional Practice Waiver Committee. The Tribunal considered that the respondent’s conduct fell at the very lower end of the scale of professional misconduct. The Tribunal however was mindful that the Society has to have certain rules which regulate the profession and these rules are important insofar as maintaining the professional and ethical standards of the profession. It is imperative that solicitors cooperate with the Society in operating its statutory function and it cannot be acceptable for a solicitor to provide the Society with inaccurate and misleading information. The Tribunal considered that the respondent’s conduct in this particular case was unfortunately reckless and therefore amounted to professional misconduct. The respondent was a talented lawyer with an unblemished record who had made a stupid mistake and did not fully understand his responsibilities. The Tribunal considered that a censure was a sufficient penalty.
Leslie Wilson Somerville
A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Leslie Wilson Somerville, solicitor, Bridge of Allan. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in cumulo in respect of his breach of rule B6 of the Law Society of Scotland’s Practice Rules 2011 and in particular his repeated failure to maintain a surplus on his client account; to keep properly written-up books to show the true financial position of the practice unit; to keep and maintain a proper list of client balances or to produce surplus statements; to maintain an accurate record of client-invested funds or to carry out reconciliations; and to discharge his responsibilities as the cashroom manager of the practice unit throughout its existence.
The Tribunal censured the respondent and directed in terms of s 53(5) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that any practising certificate held by or to be issued to the respondent shall be subject to such restriction as will limit him to acting as a qualified assistant to and to being supervised by such employer or successive employers as may be approved by the Council or its Practising Certificate Subcommittee, for an aggregate period of at least two years and thereafter until such time as he satisfies the Society that he is fit to hold a full practising certificate.
The Tribunal accepted that the respondent had not undertaken a deliberate course of action; it was more a case of him not coping and getting himself into a mess. The respondent, however, as an experienced solicitor should have realised this and should not have continued in practice in breach of the 2011 Rules. The Tribunal found it extremely concerning that the respondent as an experienced solicitor would carry on in business not realising the difficulties he was getting himself into. It is imperative if the public are to have confidence in the legal profession that solicitors comply with the requirements of the rules. In this case, the respondent breached numerous Accounts Rules during the period of his sole practice. The Tribunal noted a previous finding of professional misconduct. The Tribunal took account of the fact that the respondent had co-operated with the Society’s fiscal and entered into a joint minute. He had also attended the Tribunal in person and seemed genuinely remorseful about what had happened. The Tribunal also took into account that the respondent had eventually realised that he could not continue, closed his firm and had resolved all the previous deficits. The Tribunal however considered that in order to protect the public a restriction should be imposed on the respondent’s practising certificate. The Tribunal considered it important that he work under supervision for at least two years prior to being able to have a full practising certificate, to ensure that he learned from his previous mistakes.