A trio of partners from Italian firm Giambrone Law, which is acting for a number of individuals affected by the Costa Concordia ferry disaster, is under investigation by the SRA.
The solicitors watchdog is gearing up to bring disciplinary proceedings against the firm’s named partner Gabriele Giambrone alongside partners Alessandra Bellanca and Cinzia D’Arpa over deals done on behalf of clients based in England who bought properties in the south of Italy.
Complaints were first made to the SRA in April 2008 and after a four-year investigation it has instructed Farrer Buildings’ Geoffrey Williams QC to advise it on a disciplinary hearing.
Giambrone, however, said that the SRA needs to put its own house in order and scrutinise how it regulates non-UK lawyers.
“Client account rules are a UK thing,” he said, adding that non-UK lawyers practising in the UK needed only to pass two tests in order to start practising in England and Wales.
“We admit we didn’t fully know the SRA rules, but they should take responsibility for how European lawyers are regulated in the UK,” Giambrone continued. “This involves the whole legal profession. If we were based in Italy doing the same thing there would not be regulatory matters.”
The SRA alleges there have been six breaches of its code by the firm. They are listed as: failure to cooperate with the SRA; failure to adequately supervise an office; failure to maintain properly written up books of account; taking money out of client account otherwise than in accordance with the rules; failure to promptly remedy breaches of the accounts rules; and the wrongful transference of files out of the jurisdiction.
The firm still has an office operating in London and a further four offices across Italy plus a base in New York. Last week it announced that it would be representing victims who were affected by the grounding of cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Italian coast earlier this month (24 November 2011).
In November the SRA launched a consultation on how to regulate international practices under the new outcomes-focused regulatory regime.