An ex-junior lawyer who was struck off after lying about losing a briefcase with work documents is appealing the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal's decision.
Claire Matthews was a newly-qualified solicitor at Capsticks when she lost a briefcase with sensitive documents when she accidentally left it on a train.
Matthews tried to retrieve the case from the station's lost property department. She did not immediately report the loss to her supervisor at work, saying instead that she had left the documents at home. She confessed just over a week after the incident.
At the SDT hearing, Matthews said that the mistake had caused her overwhelming distress and anxiety. She ended up drinking alcohol "to excess" and at her lowest point "resorted to drinking bleach in an attempt to end her life".
The SRA prosecuted Matthews on the basis of dishonesty and acting without integrity, and the SDT found in the SRA's favour and struck Matthews off the roll. The SRA originally tried to claim costs of £55,000 (Fieldfisher's whopping legal fees), but the tribunal deemed it to be excessive and knocked it down to £10,000.
It emerged during the hearing that the SRA did not impose a penalty on Capsticks, the SRA's usual go-to legal advisor, for failing to report Matthews' conduct to the SRA at the time. The regulator instead wrote a nice letter to Capsticks to remind the firm of its reporting obligations.
The SRA gets tough with its legal advisor.
Matthews is now appealing the decision to strike her off, saying that the tribunal failed to investigate and weigh up the impact of the incident on her mental health. She is also arguing that the decision to strike her off was unduly harsh and excessive as the tribunal failed to take into account numerous factors including her good character, that no harm occurred, that she did not gain financially or professionally, and that it was a one-off incident.
The former junior lawyer has said that her financial means are extremely limited as she is barred from the legal profession, and is currently working in an NHS call centre. Her legal team at Leigh Day and Deans Court Chambers are acting pro bono, but Matthews is seeking to raise funds in case the appeal is unsuccessful and she ends up having to pay the SRA's costs.
Matthews is aiming to raise £40,000 to cover potential costs via a GoFundMe page. At the time of going to press, the page has raised just over £8,000. Any surplus of costs raised on the funding page will go to the mental health charity LawCare, Matthews said.
"I feel it is important that this appeal is seen through so as to help highlight mental health in the legal profession," said Matthews, "and the devastating effect it can have when it impacts on careers."
Leigh Day's head of the regulatory and disciplinary team, Gideon Habel, said "the case raises important issues, including about how we in the profession, regulators, tribunals and courts deal with mental ill-health in the legal profession."
The SRA and Capsticks both declined to comment.