“ALL MATTERS WERE INFECTED FROM THE OUTSET WITH A REGRETTABLE INJUDICIOUS AND PEREMPTORY LACK OF PROFESSIONAL ASSIDUOUSNESS” : FROM AN ORGANISATION THAT SHOULD KNOW MUCH, MUCH, BETTER: JUST TAKE A WITNESS STATEMENT
This blog has looked, many times, at cases that have floundered at trial because of basic failures to investigate the primary facts. Sometimes applications fail because of a fundamental lack of knowledge as to what “facts” are. The judgment of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in SRA -v- Ahmud is somewhat remarkable because proceedings were issued, and serious allegations were made, without any attempt to obtain a witness statement in support. A lot of time, angst and the profession’s money, could have been saved if a simple basic (and one would think essential) step had been carried out.
“The Tribunal concluded that all matters were infected from the outset with a regrettable injudicious and peremptory lack of professional assiduousness. Each of the failings identified was a serious matter”
The SRA brought proceedings against the respondent solicitor, alleging (amongst other things) dishonesty in the way a client had been billed. The bill had been rendered in 2012. Proceedings were commenced in May 2019. In July 2020 the SRA sought permission to discontinue the proceedings.
THE TRIBUNAL’S JUDGMENT
The Tribunal allowed the SRA’s application. However it held that this was an appropriate case in which to order the SRA to pay the costs. One of the key matters being that the SRA had failed to take a witness statement from the client in question (Client A) up to, and including, the date of the hearing. The information that the SRA had (very belatedly) obtained from that client tended to be supportive of the respondent.
THE FAILURE TO OBTAIN A WITNESS STATEMENT PRIOR TO ISSUE
The first surprising point what that the SRA, which was making allegations of dishonesty, did not obtain a witness statement from the relevant client before issuing the proceedings.
THE JUDGMENT IN RELATION TO WITNESS EVIDENCE
Ms Hansen accepted that the Applicant did not obtain a witness statement from Client A prior to the issue of proceedings before the Tribunal.
9. The Respondent, in his Answer to the Rule 5 Statement, included an office copy of Client A’s client care letter. That copy was neither on headed paper nor was it signed but it did set out an hourly rate of £270 which was the amount claimed in the Bill of Costs. Consequently the Applicant filed a Reply to the Answer and proceeded to contact/interview Client A in March and May 2020. Ms Hansen contended that Client A gave inconsistent accounts and broadly provided some support to the Respondent’s consistent defence to Allegation 1.