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Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal

14 October 19

Reports relating to Gilbert John Sirus Anderson; Matthew Berlow (s 42ZA appeal); Edward Thornton; John James Rankin Hodge (s 42ZA appeal)

Gilbert John Sirus Anderson

A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Gilbert John Sirus Anderson, solicitor, Kilmarnock. The respondent was convicted on 22 May 2017 of an assault aggravated by abuse of his partner. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of this conviction and censured him.

A solicitor requires to be a person of integrity. If the public is to have trust in the profession, solicitors must observe high standards of conduct. The need to have integrity applies equally to a solicitor’s private life as it does his professional conduct. The conviction was on summary complaint and there was no injury involved. However, the Tribunal considered that the domestic nature of the conviction was apt to bring the profession into disrepute. The respondent had not acted with integrity. His conduct was a serious and reprehensible departure from the standards of competent and reputable solicitors and therefore he was guilty of professional misconduct.

Matthew Berlow (s 42ZA appeal)

An appeal was made under s 42ZA(9) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 by Matthew Berlow, solicitor, Berlow Rahman Solicitors, Glasgow against the determination by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland dated 9 August 2018 in respect of a decision to uphold complaints of unsatisfactory professional conduct made against him by Ms A, the second respondent, who did not enter the appeal process.

The Tribunal confirmed the determination of unsatisfactory professional conduct in relation to the complaint that the appellant had failed to maintain the standards of behaviour expected of a solicitor in that in comments he wrote online on 27 August 2016 he used derogatory language in relation to pro-Palestinian activists. The Tribunal concluded that the subcommittee took into account all of the relevant facts, applied the correct test for unsatisfactory professional conduct and concluded, in agreement with the complaints investigator, that the appellant’s conduct was likely to bring the profession into disrepute. No error of fact or law was apparent.

However it quashed the determination of unsatisfactory professional conduct in relation to the complaint that the tone of an email of 23 April 2017 to the Law Society of Scotland was derogatory and aggressive and made defamatory accusations completely devoid of any substance, and a further such determination in relation to the complaint that the appellant had failed to act with honesty and integrity by making incorrect statements in the same email. The subcommittee made no reference in its deliberations to having regard to certain important materials, and failed to take into account relevant facts.

The Tribunal confirmed the order of censure of the appellant, confirmed the direction that he pay a fine of £1,750, quashed the direction that he pay compensation of £100 and quashed the direction that he undergo training in diversity.

Edward Thornton

A complaint was made by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Edward Thornton, E Thornton & Co Solicitors, Oban. The Tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his breaches of the Practice Rules 2011.

The Tribunal censured the respondent and fined him £1,000.

Over a six year period and despite matters having been drawn repeatedly to his attention, the respondent failed to keep accounting records necessary to demonstrate compliance with the Money Laundering Regulations (rule B6.7.1(c)). He failed to keep adequate accounting records to show the true financial position of the practice unit and to ensure the practice unit balanced its books monthly and on the last date of each accounting period (B6.7.3). He failed to reconcile the clients’ accounts and ledgers (B6.8.1). He failed to deal properly with historic client balances (B6.11). As cashroom manager he failed to use reasonable endeavours to acquire and maintain the required skills and to maintain the competent supervision and training of his employees (B6.13). He failed to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations (B6.23.1).

In holding funds for clients, a solicitor is in a privileged position of trust. To protect their clients and themselves, solicitors must comply with the accounts rules and Money Laundering Regulations. If solicitors are to continue to enjoy the public trust in regard to their financial affairs, they must have careful regard to all the requirements and obligations contained in the accounts rules. A solicitor in the respondent’s position as a sole practitioner and cashroom manager has responsibility for the books and records and compliance with the money laundering procedures including documenting compliance. Dishonesty was not a feature of this case and there was no risk to client money. However, failure to comply with the accounts rules and Money Laundering Regulations is a serious matter and professional misconduct was established.

John James Rankin Hodge (s 42ZA appeal)

An appeal was made under s 42ZA(9) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 by John James Rankin Hodge, solicitor, Ayr, against the determination by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland dated 28 June 2018 in respect of a decision to uphold six heads of complaint of unsatisfactory professional conduct made against him by Mr A (the second respondent). The second respondent did not enter the appeal process.

The Tribunal confirmed the determination of unsatisfactory professional conduct in relation to the six heads of complaint, which related to the respondent’s failure to communicate effectively and act in his client’s best interests. The Tribunal confirmed the order of censure of the appellant, confirmed the direction that the appellant pay a fine of £1,000, but varied the direction that the appellant pay compensation of £2,500 by reducing the award to £1,500.

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