Scottish Lawyer Struck Off Roll

Alistair Bowie, aged 69, has been struck off the solicitors’ roll after being found guilty of ‘professional misconduct’ over his failure to act in his client’s best interest.

Mr Bowie, acted on behalf of a 70-year-old client, however, he transferred the title from the client’s home over to an Edwin McLaren. It transpired later on that Mr McLaren was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment.

The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) found that Mr Bowie had demonstrated a “serious and reprehensible departure from the standards of competent and reputable solicitors” in failing to take steps to avoid the fraud which was being perpetrated, after McLaren “duped” the homeowner into transferring ownership of her home.

Mr McLaren was a criminal who regularly targeted vulnerable homeowners who were in financial difficulty through newspaper ads.

In 2013, McLaren approached Mr Bowie under the alias David Johnston and instructed him to open his elderly client’s file. He falsely claimed that he was willing to purchase her property in Dundee for £5,000, settle her outstanding mortgage, other debts and conveyancing fees. He also stated that he’d allow the client to live in the property as a tenant, rent free.

Alarm bells should have begun to ring for Mr Bowie, as he was based in Bishopsbriggs when the property was 8o miles away in Dundee, and the client was selling the property way below the market value. He even forgot to check if she required a tenancy agreement, to protect her in this new ‘arrangement’.

It was deemed that Mr Bowie had ‘no authority’ to act on the client’s behalf with regards to the title deeds, property and mortgage figures.

It was then demonstrated that Mr Bowie, failed to advise his client of the effect the terms and conditions this new arrangement would have.

Mr Bowie was said to be “entirely unaware” of Edwin McLaren’s fraudulent enterprise and “deeply regretful” of the distress caused.

He considered the case to be a “standard conveyancing transaction” albeit the client had been introduced by a third party, but he accepted that the things were not done as they ought to have been and wished he had been “more proactive” in enquiring about the circumstances with the client.

Although Mr Bowie retired in 2017, the only punishment deemed suitable by the SDDT was to strike him off the roll.

In a written decision, SSDT chair Nicholas Whyte said:

“Solicitors must always be trustworthy and act honestly. They must act in the best interests of their clients. They must have the authority of their clients for their actions. They must communicate effectively with their clients. They must advise clients of any significant developments in their case.

“Without instruction, the respondent requested title deeds and retained these. He requested redemption figures from the secondary complainer’s (the client) lender. He sent her land and charge certificates to another solicitor and drafted a discharge and draft letter of obligation. He failed to discuss and advise the secondary complainer at every stage of the process of the consequences of his actions.

“It was of great concern that the respondent concluded missives without the secondary complainer’s instructions. It is not possible to accept the clauses in a standard offer without detailed discussion with the client. If the respondent had believed the that the client was to remain in the house, he should have discussed with her the deletion of the clause regarding vacant possession. He ought to have identified that she had no right to remain in the property and discussed her plans.

“There were various warning signs throughout this transaction which should have caused the respondent to pause. If he had considered these as he ought, he could have taken steps to avoid the fraud which was being perpetrated against the secondary complainer.

“The respondent’s misconduct grew more serious as the course of conduct progressed. The tribunal therefore found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct in cumulo in relation to the earlier misconduct but individually with regard to his later behaviour.”

Mr Whyte added:

“On balance, the tribunal considered that the professional misconduct was so serious that the only suitable sanction was strike off. In coming to that decision, it took into account the effect on the respondent and the message to the public and the profession.

“While solicitors will sometimes become victims of fraud through no fault of their own, the respondent failed to engage with the secondary complainer about many of the warning signs that had been apparent in this case and then had gone to act dishonestly with regard to the affidavit. His behaviour went to the root of the trust placed in solicitors. Therefore, the tribunal ordered that the respondent’s name be struck off the roll of solicitors in Scotland.”

Today's Conveyancer