The case of SRA v Denise Davies involved a series of allegations arising out of a set of conveyancing transactions on behalf of three members of the same family over a 7-year period. The allegations involved, firstly, a failure to obtain identity documents for a number of members of the same family in circumstances in which it was said should have raised “red flags” and led to enhanced due diligence. Secondly, there was an admitted allegation that the Respondent incorrectly certified an introduction certificate that she knew one of the members of the family. Thirdly, that she had released funds prior to obtaining correctly executed mortgage deeds.
The SDT was highly critical of the Forensic Investigation Officer (FIA) finding he was “thoroughly unprepared to give evidence”. They found that he “did not acknowledge the responsibility incumbent upon him to bring fairness and independence to the investigation”. His evidence was said to “appear to unravel when tested” and contrasted with the Respondent’s “clear, persuasive and measured evidence”.
Criticism was levelled at the FIA’s reliance on the Respondent’s former firm search of their IT systems. He claimed not to be aware that the Respondent and her former firm were involved in a wider commercial dispute. He accepted under questioning that he should have done the checks himself. The FIA also admitted to making no enquiries with the clients concerned to see whether they could provide evidence of emails.
The Respondent accepted that she would occasionally proceed to completion without the original signed mortgage deed. She would sometimes rely upon an emailed copy of the deed to complete obtaining the hard copy afterwards. She however denied ever completing without at least an electronic version of the deed.
The Tribunal accepted the Respondent’s evidence pointing out that “the Applicant’s apparent evidence gap could have easily been addressed by the FIA had he contacted [the clients concerned] to ascertain if/when they returned their signed deeds to the Firm”. This, combined with the concession by the Firm that some old emails may have been deleted, led to these allegations not being proven.
For the one admitted allegation, the Tribunal treated it as a “one off lapse of judgement” with “no breach of trust” and imposed a level 1 financial penalty of £1,500.
The investigation’s failings featured strongly in the Tribunal’s approach to costs. In a stinging rebuke, having found the investigation and evidence “wholly unsatisfactory”, they reduced the investigation costs (already reduced by 40% by the Applicant) by 2/3rd (£7,150) and the Applicant’s proceedings costs by nearly 40%.
This article featured in our recent Professional Discipline & Regulatory newsletter, which you can access in full here.
Nick Jones is an experienced criminal and regulatory advocate. Prior to joining the Bar, Nick was a solicitor (admitted 1998). As a former solicitor he understands the importance of working as part of a team and the need for meticulous preparation.