Striking off substituted for nine-month suspension following solicitor’s appeal

The High Court has substituted a senior solicitor’s striking off with a nine-month suspension following his successful appeal.

Peter Rhys Williams had originally been struck off the Roll of Solicitors, preventing him from practice, by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), having been found guilty of misconduct involving dishonestly and to a want of integrity.

This decision was overturned by the High Court in June, however, on the basis that Williams was not given the chance to defend himself, with the judges stressing that the outstanding issues needed to be “resolved as soon as possible”.

Peter Rhys Williams [he] was found to have been guilty of misconduct by the SDT on 9th December 2016 (full judgement dated 1st February 2017) in the following respects:

(1)          Representing that [he] acted for ‘F Limited’ in letters to HSBC and Barclays dated 8th March 2012, when that was not the case: misconduct amounting to a want of integrity.

(2)          Representing that negotiations were proceeding between [his] client and F Limited in letters to Northern Rock dated 22nd June and 1st November 2011 and in a telephone conversation with Northern Rock on 16th August 2011, when that was not the case: misconduct amounting to a want of integrity.

(3)          Representing that [his] client did not have a valuation of the Property in the sum of £3.9m, when that was not the case: misconduct involving dishonesty.”

The first of those matters was abandoned by the SRA during the hearing of the Appeal. The third was quashed by the High Court. The second survived. This subsequently led to the change of decision from Peter Rhys Williams being struck off the Roll of Solicitors to receiving a 9 month suspension until 9th September 2017.

Delivering the most recent ruling, Mrs Justice Carr acknowledged that whilst the misconduct was serious, it had not been at the highest level. The delay of the case being brought by the SRA, as well as several of the allegations set out, were also criticised.

As opposed to referring the case back to the tribunal, the court decided that it could determine an appropriate sanction.

The nine-month suspension period is almost at an end, given that it has run from the date of the initial ruling – 9th December 2016.

Giving her reasoning and accounting for the mitigating factors, Carr commented on the co operation of Williams, as well as his professional attitude, stating: “It is clear that Mr Williams was at all material times a very busy solicitor, working very long hours, with many clients and many active files.

“Standing back, and taking all relevant factors into account, in my judgment this was serious misconduct, but not misconduct at the highest level.”

She went on to deliver the sanction, outlining the factors considered when reaching the sanction: “Mr Williams’ professional performance, including a lack of sufficient insight on his part, demonstrates the need to underline the gravity of his conduct. Nine months is a term that will both punish and deter whilst being proportionate to the seriousness of the misconduct. Public confidence demands no lesser sanction.”

In order to acknowledge that several of the allegations “should not have been made”, the original costs of £195,000 were also reduced to £60,000 by the court.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: AMENDMENTS WERE MADE TO THIS ARTICLE ON 22/08/2017*

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