Ex-solicitor to appeal strike-off sanction

A FORMER solicitor has been struck off and ordered to pay £35,000 in costs for dishonestly overcharging clients.

The sanctions were made in June against Eric Donald Hunter, formerly of Blythe Liggins in Leamington, following hearings held by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Mr Hunter, who lives in Warwick, has now lodged an appeal against the sanctions.

The tribunal found allegations made against Mr Hunter proven that during his time as a partner at Blythe Liggins he had transferred funds from the client account to the office account on probate matters, prepared bills of costs on probate matters that were excessive, failed to properly send bills of costs to entitled parties and prepared round sum bills in probate matters, all of which were contrary to the Solicitors Accounts Rules.

In one probate case given for overcharging, the bills of costs over a five-and-a-half-year period amounted to £14,695, which were judged “manifestly disproportionate to the work on the file” and the overcharge “significant” when a reasonable cost for handling the matter assessed by a law costs draftsman would have been about £4,059.

In another case, bills prepared by Mr Hunter totalling £17,725 were assessed by the law costs draftsman to be £6,896 - an over-charge of more than £10,000.

In all five probate cases cited at the hearing, the tribunal was satisfied there had been culpable over-charging and that Mr Hunter had been dishonest in rendering bills of costs on probate matters which were excessive. Mr Hunter had denied those allegations.

The tribunal cited the case of Salsbury v the Law Society in which Lord Justice Coulson said that any solicitor who overcharged in bills of costs was a danger to the public.

Richard Thornton, joint senior partner at Blythe Liggins, said a routine inspection by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had taken place in 2006.

Mr Thornton added: “In the course of that inspection, the SRA reviewed a number of Mr Hunter’s trust/administration files dating back several years.

“They felt that eight matters relating to fees over that period required further investigation, even though no complaints of any kind were - or have been since - made by the clients or the beneficiaries involved.

“Mr Hunter left the firm at the beginning of 2009.

“Compliance with the rules of our professional body is something we take very seriously.

“That’s why, since taking over as joint senior partners four years ago, David Lester and I have introduced new governance, better supervision, new codes of practice, greater transparency and more training courses to ensure that this could not happen again.”

At the time of going to print Mr Hunter was unavailable for comment.