Punished, but for what?

Confusion over disciplinary judgments means lawyers can’t know right from wrong

News last week that two Addleshaw Goddard partners had been fined £5,000 each by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was met with disdain – not because they were fined but because it is unclear what for. According to the firm, partners Emmett Peters and David Wilson were not guilty of wrongdoing and the fine did not reflect on their integrity. 

What had they done? They had ‘misdescribed’ disbursements. What this actually means is unclear. The SDT has not clarified it, and some wish it would get a move on.

UCL law professor Richard Moorhead says: “The profession has an interest in understanding misconduct. We need to know what the lawyers did. An opaque reference and a well-intentioned distancing from allegations of dishonesty just doesn’t cut it. A chance to educate is lost each time a disciplinary decision is obfuscated.”

Likewise, many lawyers would be interested to learn the details of how a former Stewarts Law partner came to be struck off in February as a result of a private prosecution brought by New York investment banker Geoffrey Logue. Former litigation partner Andrew Shaw is to challenge the SDT judgment next month, which means the SDT has not yet published its ruling.

What we do know is that in April 2010 Mr Justice Morgan granted a freezing order against Logue to the value of $9.6m. This was in response to an application by the liquidators of US ‘destination clubs’ business Complete Retreats, an outfit Logue had worked for. Shaw was one of three witnesses to support the application.

In July 2010 Mr Justice Roth discharged the freezing order because the applicant had failed to make full and frank disclosures. The judge held that this led to the court “receiving a misleading picture as to the likely character and conduct of Mr Logue and the strength of the case against him” as well as a “prejudicial picture” of the defendant, “without any attempt to put before the court material that might go the other way”.

Details will become clear at the appeal, the outcome of which could have dramatic consequences for litigators.