Ex Solicitor Found Guilty Of Forgery And Fraud

Having been struck off the roll of solicitors last year for misconduct spanning over five years, Martin Burnett has now pleaded guilty to allegations of forgery and fraud.

The offences were committed in May 2011 and relate to a conveyancing transaction he was instructed to carry out.

In 2007, a Cumbrian couple, Barbara and Lawrence Duffy, sought legal advice to purchase a barn conversion worth £330,000.

To their knowledge, the house sale went through without any issues and they lived in the property for over three years.

In 2011, they looked to sell the property. Despite repeatedly asking Mr Burnett for the title deeds to the property, all requests were ignored.

The couple pressed on, placing the home for sale and succeeding in garnering significant amounts of interest in the property.

That interest also converted into multiple offers from interested parties. However, the offers failed to convert into a completed transition.

This is because, unbeknownst to them, the property was subject to an overage clause which made the property less appealing to perspective buyers.

The couple were unaware of any legal restrictions when they purchased the property and were still to receive their title deeds. It was at this point that they threatened the solicitor with taking the issue to the Law Society.

Mr Burnett’s radio silence was down to the fact that the property was still unregistered and was not registered with the land registry until 2014, seven years after the original purchase date.

Worse still, Mr Burnett forged the couple’s signatures to conceal his mistake. After being shown the Land Registry documents, the couple confirmed the signatures as fakes and exposed Mr Burnett’s lie.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) claimed that the ‘misconduct was deliberate, calculated and repeated and had continued for a considerable period of time,’ and was struck off the roll.

In the present, a district judge has also acknowledged the severity of the deception and passed the case for sentencing to Carlisle Crown Court on March 16th.

District Judge Gerald Chalk, commented:

“The defendant was instructed by the victims to deal with a property purchase. In that relationship, there is naturally a degree of trust.

“They hadn’t been informed about the overage clause, and the property wasn’t registered for seven years after the property was purchased. It was a deliberate breach of trust.”

2 Comments

  • test

    Did Burnett know anything about overage?

    My experience is that fools rush into the concept. I have had to advise my own clients to insist that purchasers have advice from someone who is up to speed on the subject to avoid the purgatory of perpetual litigation to unbundle transactions

    It is an example of an area where the reserved matters regime should only apply to specialists. One size fits all is not adequate.

    • test

      Good point. Did the solicitor know? What did he know and why did he do this?

      5 years on from the start of divorce proceedings where a property was to be sold with land which had overage/clawback to the previous owner ( added at the eleventh hour when buying it by the vendor ie. If you want the land I want a pound of flesh if ever you get to build on it) …the mess has got bigger than you could dream of.

      The husband filed for ancillary relief in divorce. He and his solicitors took a secret undeclared secured second charge loan on the whole of the property which comprised a house on a separate plot to the plot of land. Allegedly for legal fees and disbursements. Without knowledge or consent of the wife.

      So if the clawback clause was not a problem before it is now. The house and land was conveyed by said husband’s solicitors by questionable court order and both the ex husband and ex wife remain on the land title deeds at the mercy of whatever comes next.

      The husband signed all his right, title and interest as and to the orders before final hearing.

      Get yourself out of that one….even the land registry are baffled.

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