Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal
Reports relating to Alastair MacBean Blackwood; Alison Hazel Margaret Greer
SCOTTISH SOLICITORS DISCIPLINE TRIBUNAL
Alastair MacBean Blackwood
A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Alastair MacBean Blackwood, solicitor, Paisley. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in cumulo in respect that: (a) in the period prior to inspection by the Financial Compliance department, the respondent paid into his practice unit account and retained there monies constituting outlays received from SLAB, said outlays having been incurred on behalf of clients, where the practice unit did not maintain a client account or otherwise hold a surplus of client funds, thereby the respondent created a deficit of client funds, contrary to rule B6.3.1; (b) on 22 August 2014 the respondent transferred from his practice unit account the sum of £9,600 to a third party, which cumulative amount included client funds of £867.60, where the practice unit did not hold a surplus of client funds, thereby creating a deficit of client funds in breach of rule B6.3.1; (c) by transferring the said £9,600 from his firm’s account to a third party, the respondent failed to act in the best interests of the client to whom those funds of £867.60 belonged or on whose behalf they were to be applied insofar as he abdicated control of the client funds which had been entrusted to him; (d) the respondent failed to record or explain with sufficient clarity in the accounts of Crim Law the inter-relationship between Crim Law, Robertson & Ross and the commercial entity SMC or to identify the mechanism of services provided and payments made as between these three commercial entities such as would fulfil his duty to maintain at all times, properly written up, such accounting records as were necessary to show the true financial position of Crim Law and as a consequence acted in breach of rule B6.7; and (e) the respondent failed to use reasonable endeavours to acquire and maintain the skills necessary to discharge his responsibility as cashroom manager of the practice unit during the period of his appointment as said cashroom manager, thereby acting contrary to the terms of rule B6.13.2.
The Tribunal censured the respondent and directed in terms of s 53(5) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that any practising certificate held or to be issued to the respondent be subject to such restriction as will limit him as to acting as a qualified assistant to (and to being supervised by) such employer or successive employers as maybe approved by the Council of the Society or its Practising Certificate Subcommittee and that for an aggregate period of at least three years.
The respondent had failed to act properly with regard to clients’ money in three separate cases. Payments to third parties had been delayed for some months. Deficits had occurred. The Tribunal was concerned that client money had been transferred to a third party, even though this money had been returned to the firm shortly afterwards. It noted that the respondent had not explained with sufficient clarity in his accounts or to the complainers the interrelationship between Crim Law, Robertson & Ross and SMC. He was not able to identify the services provided and the payments made between these organisations. The respondent’s practices did not match the statements he made to the complainers in his accounts certificates. Due to these breaches, the respondent was unable to fulfil his duties in terms of the accounts rules. The Tribunal was satisfied that this pattern of behaviour constituted professional misconduct. It was of the view that a restriction would provide the necessary reassurance that the respondent was adequately supervised should he return to work, thus protecting the public. The three-year restriction would not include any time when the respondent was not working as a solicitor in terms of his restricted practising certificate.
Alison Hazel Margaret Greer
A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Alison Hazel Margaret Greer, solicitor, Kirkintilloch. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of (a) her failure in her obligation to see that the firm, in which she was a partner with the added duties incumbent on her as designated cashroom partner, complied with the Accounts Rules, in her duty to supervise the firm’s office manager and cashier, in her duty to take steps to satisfy herself that fees being charged to executries were properly so charged and that fee notes were properly rendered, and to see that at all times the sums at credit of the client account exceeded the sums due to clients; and (b) her continued drawing of funds from the firm while it was being financed by the overcharges to clients. The Tribunal ordered that the name of the respondent be struck off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland.
The respondent had been the cashroom partner throughout the time period with which the Tribunal was concerned. It is essential that the public be able to have confidence in the profession; the role of the cashroom partner is one of the most important roles within a firm and has been designed to ensure that a firm complies with the accounts rules which are designed to protect the interests of the public. The Tribunal had before it a course of conduct that had continued over a period of three years. Not only had the respondent failed to supervise an employee in relation to the individual executry matters, which appeared to have been her area of responsibility within the firm, she also failed in her duties as cashroom partner to ensure that the firm complied with the accounts rules. The respondent had continued in her role as cashroom partner, and had failed to supervise her husband over a period of years where she had had previous notice of her husband’s dishonesty in hiding correspondence from her and where she was aware that the firm had had financial difficulties. Her complete dereliction of duty as cashroom partner had allowed a course of conduct to persist for three years and had led to a deficit of £126,828.64. The accounts rules are an essential protection of the public interest and the role of cashroom partner is a pivotal part of the protection provided. The Tribunal concluded that the only disposal available to it that would reflect the serious nature of the respondent’s conduct and that would address the issue of protection of the public was to strike the respondent’s name from the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland.