Swepstones collapses after tribunal rulings

Swepstone Walsh, the niche media litigation firm and one-time main adviser to Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), has ceased trading.
Swepstones has shut its doors after running into serious trouble with the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) last month. A former partner has been struck off the roll and one current and one former partner were fined £5,000 each for breach of the solicitors' accounts rules. The firm has also seen its insurance premium pushed to unmanageably high levels. It is unknown whether the bad record is related to the SDT decisions.
According to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, James Christopher Robinson, formerly of Swepstones, was struck off the roll for breach of solicitors' accounts rules on 18 October. Patrick Stewart, one of two partners working at Swepstones before the closure, was fined £5,000 on the same day. Rory George Robertson, a former Swepstones partner who now practises at a West End firm, received the same penalty at the same tribunal.
When asked to confirm that Swepstones had closed because of the SDT decisions and the high insurance premium, Stewart confirmed: “It's all this. We've ceased trading. Basically, the premium's the reason.”
When asked if the firm was to dissolve immediately, Stewart replied: “I should think we're keeping the offices for about two weeks.”
The firm's connections with MGN go back to Stewart's role as in-house lawyer at MGN for the Sunday People.
In September 2000, MGN head of legal Charles Collier Wright named Swepstones as one of its main advisers on media matters (The Lawyer, 11 September 2000). The firm has acted in key libel battles fought by MGN in the past. In December 2000, it led MGN's appeal against a High Court order that it should disclose the identity of a source that had given The Mirror medical details about Moors murderer Ian Brady. The appeal was dismissed. Swepstones has received no new instructions from MGN since April, although an MGN spokesperson said that the firm has been working on one pre-existing matter since then.
Swepstones has also been linked to Associated Newspapers, the proprietor of the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard. In July 2000 the firm represented Associated Newspapers as an ex parte action in a case concerning a general practitioner convicted on 15 counts of murder.
Swepstones, and in particular Patrick Stewart, are highly regarded within media law circles. Charles Russell media and communications partner Duncan Lamont said: “Patrick is a highly experienced media lawyer who is highly regarded and has been doing it for 20 years.”
Sources close to the firm have put its demise down to financial management rather than to the expertise of the Swepstones lawyers.
Swepstones has been linked to financial controversy before. In November 1998, Andrew Cameron, a solicitor at the firm, was fined £5,000 for using client money and failing to pay counsel fees at his former firm Vallance Lickfold. Also in 1998, Swepstones faced a High Court writ in a negligence action, where it was alleged the firm was to blame for the failure of a £2.7m claim. And in 1997, the firm acted on behalf of Ian Botham in his action against Imran Khan. It then sued Botham for more than £100,000 in unpaid fees, although the claim was later dropped.