Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal
Reports of cases relating to Karen Stedward Paterson; Daniel O'Neill
Karen Stedward Paterson
A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Karen Stedward Paterson, Brown & McRae, Fraserburgh. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect that she (1) acted in a way that called into question her personal integrity; (2) gave advice which was not free from external influence; (3) accepted improper instructions to draft a will for execution by someone not her client; (4) failed to act in a manner consistent with mutual trust and confidence by accepting improper instructions to draft a will in the knowledge that other agents had acted very recently in other matters and in all probability continued to act; and (5) enabled the signing of a will drafted by her while she took no steps to advise the testator either of the legal consequences of signing the will or that the testator should seek independent legal advice before signing. The Tribunal censured the respondent.
The respondent had admitted preparing a will to be signed by someone who was not her client, she having been consulted only by the testator’s husband. The respondent was aware of a difficult background where at one point marital relations had been strained and the testator’s son Mr A, the secondary complainer, had been estranged from the family. She was aware of the involvement of another firm of solicitors. She was aware that there were questions regarding the vulnerability and capacity of Mrs B to give instructions for such a document. She knew the document would be signed by Mrs B but took no steps to advise her either of the legal consequences of such signature or that Mrs B should seek independent legal advice before signing. This was conduct that clearly fell below the standard to be expected of a reasonable solicitor and which was serious and reprehensible. However, the respondent had demonstrated insight by giving full co-operation with the complaint and intimating through her agent that there would be a plea of guilty at an early stage. The respondent had been in practice for many years without any other incident. Given these factors, together with the references prepared for the Tribunal, the Tribunal did not feel that the protection of the public would require any steps to be taken to supervise the respondent. It was always a concern for the Tribunal when a solicitor with such vast experience came before it towards the end of his/her career. In all the circumstances the Tribunal held that the appropriate penalty was to censure the respondent.
A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Daniel O’Neill, solicitor, Glasgow. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his failure to (a) communicate effectively with his client, the secondary complainer, by failing to deal with his correspondence and telephone calls between 15 August 2011 and 11 May 2012; and (b) to update his client on the progress of his case despite requests to do so. The Tribunal censured the respondent.
The respondent admitted failing to communicate with his client over a period of nine months. The evidence disclosed 21 separate telephone calls from the client during that time. This represented persistent failure to communicate. Clearly the respondent’s conduct fell well below the standard to be expected of a competent and reputable solicitor, and could only be considered as serious and reprehensible. For the same period of time the respondent had failed to update the client of the progress of his case. In these circumstances, the Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct. While the Tribunal did not accept that this conduct was at the absolute lowest end of the scale of misconduct given its persistence, having taken into account the respondent’s previous good record and the payment already made to the client, it concluded that the matter could be dealt with by way of a censure.