Conveyancing Firm Fined For Conflict Of Interest Breach
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had accused Manchester firm Sleigh Son & Booth of four separate offences that created a clear conflict of interest. Following a recent ruling by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), the firm have been fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs in the amount of £20,000, despite the SRA asking for £32,000.
The first offences had taken place between 31 October 2014 and 18 March 2016. Here, the firm acted on behalf of both the vendor and the purchaser in 26 transactions.
During the second offence, the firm acted on behalf of both the vendor and purchaser in 14 conveyancing transactions. The firm was also the acting as the selling agent for the vendor. The SRA claimed that this created a clear conflict of interest as one role clearly conflicted with the role for its purchasing client.
Despite a conflict of interest, the firm would be able to adopt both roles if a transparent communication to clients was offered by the firm. However, between 31 October 2014 and 18 November 2016, the firm failed to advise either vendor or buyer that it was acting for the other. Wherever conflict is possible, each party should have been notified.
Similarly, between 31 October and 18 March 2016, the firm failed to notify the vendor of the conflict on 15 separate transactions.
The SRA have conceded that these issues concern the potential conflict of interest and the oversight in failing to communicate transparently with their clients rather than issues of financial loss and integrity on the part of Sleigh Son & Booth.
Although systems were clearly put in place to protect and notify clients, on too many occasions these protocols were breached or forgotten.
During the mitigation process the firm decreed the misconduct as not remotely serious with only minor breaches of protocol. They estimated that the affected transactions made up around 1% of the total conveyancing work during this time frame; thus, highlighting their reliability on most occasions.
Sleigh Son & Booth have taken steps to avoid similar oversights moving forward and the SDT agreed that the misconduct was relatively low.
Whilst the offences may have been minor, in the age of service transparency, there is a clear desire from consumers and regulatory bodies to ensure that communication remains a priority during the house selling process.
Do you feel that this is a serious offence? Should a firm’s communication protocols with clients be classed as a priority?