Three Law Society ex-presidents are to decide whether the society's treasurer Mike Howells should resign after revelations that he has been “severely rebuked” by the Solicitors Complaints Bureau.
The SCB found he had failed to furnish a client with adequate professional services and ordered him to pay £1,000 compensation.
The issue is threatening to overshadow the Law Society election fight between current incumbent Martin Mears, Tony Girling and Anthony Bogan.
The ex-presidents – Charles Elly, Rodger Pannone and Mark Sheldon – have been asked to review the Howells case by Mears, who said: “I want to know if they think the matter should be taken any further.”
Girling said: “On the surface, this does not immediately seem like a resignation matter. But I have not yet seen the papers.”
He was backed up by his ally Michael Mathews, of Clifford Chance. “Howells does not seem to have done anything that would appear to affect his job as treasurer for the society.
But one Mears supporter on the council was not so sure. “It is a question of when, rather than if, he resigns,” he said.
Howells said he had no intention of resigning. “I cannot see what this has to do with being treasurer of the Law Society.”
Pre-election drama engulfed Chancery Lane just over a year ago when former deputy president John Young withdrew from the presidential race after allegations of sexual harassment and a cover-up.
Although Howells has clashed publicly with vice-president Robert Sayer and is not seen as a Mears supporter, he insisted he was not part of the old guard. “I am not part of the establishment. I am known as a maverick,” he said.
Howells released a letter to council members detailing the circumstances of the SCB censure. “The rationale was to avoid allegations of a cover-up of the kind flying about with regard to John Young last year,” Howells said.
Howells, a council member since 1983, was advising a client over a personal injury claim when he was senior partner at Milford Haven firm Price & Kelway. He was also advising the client's legal insurer, in itself not unusual.
But the client complained she was not told that Howells had informed the insurer he thought the client was making unreasonable demands.
According to the SCB, the case was considered both internally and by an independent solicitor, and it was initially decided it should be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. However, an appeal by Howells against a tribunal referral was upheld. It was agreed he should receive an SCB sanction only.
Meanwhile, as the presidential hustings gather pace, Girling said Mears' supporters were melting away. Andrew Hill, Holborn law society president who voted for Mears last year, pledged support for Girling. Another defector is council member Roger Wilson. But Mears hit back, saying these were “generals without troops”.