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Pro-bono appeal help offers to struck-off junior solicitor
Junior solicitor struck off for leaving briefcase of confidential documents on train represented herself at hearing

16 Apr 2020 / regulation Print

Pro-bono appeal help offers to struck-off junior solicitor

Concerned lawyers in England are offering pro bono advice to a struck-off junior solicitor if she wishes to appeal a Solicitors Regulation Authority decision.

However, former Capsticks solicitor Claire Matthews has not responded to attempts to contact her, though the 21-day appeal deadline is looming after the 6 April decision.

The junior solicitor was hauled before a disciplinary tribunal after she accidentally left a briefcase containing important documents on a train.

She had put the files into a borrowed briefcase intending to work from home overnight.

However, Matthews fell asleep on the train home from Birmingham to Cheltenham, and forgot the briefcase, which was never found.

Panicked

She told a disciplinary hearing that she initially panicked and then lied to colleagues that she had left the briefcase at home.

A week later, she admitted the loss, but said the briefcase had been left on a train just that morning.

At the tribunal, Matthews pleaded to be let continue her career, explaining that she was “overcome by uncontrollable fear, anxiety and panic” after the initial loss of the documents.

Loss

Matthews said that she remembered little about the days immediately following the loss of the briefcase on 24 May 2018.

She described it as the darkest period of her life – she barely ate, slept or showered and drank alcohol to excess in order block out the event.

She also attempted to end her life, and the SRA heard that she had a history of depression, anxiety and alcohol misuse.

However, the SRA said these factors did not excuse dishonesty in a solicitor.

Concealing

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal banned her from the profession, and said she had acted dishonestly by concealing the loss from colleagues.

The SRA was represented at the hearing by a barrister instructed by Fieldfisher. Matthews was without representation.

The profession’s regulator also claimed Stg £55,000 in costs following the decision, reduced to Stg £10,000 when it was shown that Matthews subsequently earned Stg £9 an hour in a temporary call-centre job.

Debate

The case led to debate about the severity of the sanction against Matthews, and a number of senior lawyers offered to help her with an appeal.

Many barristers and solicitors took to social media to offer their support in any challenge against the tribunal decision.

One firm has lined up preliminary advice from a barrister, and said it was particularly concerned that Matthews had not been represented at the initial hearing.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland