A former partner of a Leeds law firm agreed a fine with the English Solicitors Regulation Authority (the "SRA") after he used expired Powers of Attorney to withdraw funds from a client's bank account, in order to fund the purchase of a property for his daughter.
In November 2015, Henry Hymans (a law firm based in Leeds) made a report to the SRA regarding the conduct of one of its partners, Mr Graham Trevor Parkin.
One of Mr Parkin's clients, Mrs AC, had died in July 2015 intestate. Prior to her death, Mr Parkin had been appointed as Attorney to Mrs AC, under three Powers of Attorney. All three Powers of Attorney terminated upon Mrs AC's death.
Following Mrs AC's death, and in full knowledge of the expiry of the Powers of Attorney and of her death, Mr Parkin made the following withdrawals from her personal bank accounts:
- £29,000.00 was paid into the Firm's client account on 6 July 2015;
- £11,062.47 was paid into the Firm's client account on 27 August 2015; and
- £12,000.00 on 27 August 2015 was paid into Mr Parkin's wife's personal bank account, and was later used to assist in the purchase of a property for Mr Parkin's daughter.
Additional withdrawals were made from the account of Mrs AC totalling £13,911.73, for work on her property and funeral costs.
All of the above payments were made with the knowledge and consent of the sole beneficiary of Mrs AC's estate, her son Mr JC. Mr Parkin was said to be a close family friend of both Mrs AC and Mr JC.
Mr Parkin admitted that by using the Powers of Attorney which he knew had expired to make withdrawals from Mrs AC's bank account, and by allowing the sum of £12,000 to be used to purchase a house for his daughter, he had breached Principle 6 of the SRA Principles 2011 by failing to act in a way that maintains the public trust placed in him and in the provision of legal services. Mr Parkin admitted that he had been under immense pressure to complete on a property on that day and had come to an "injudicious and irrational decision to act in the manner described" and that the close friendship had "clouded his decision making process".
Mr Parkin quickly recognised that he had made a mistake and reported it to his firm.
A Regulatory Settlement Agreement was reached, in which Mr Parkin agreed to pay a fine of £2,000 within 28 days of the agreement, plus the costs of the SRA investigation, which totalled a sum of £5,000 including disbursements.
This decision re-enforces the importance of complying with SRA principles and the Code of Conduct, in addition to firm-specific risk procedures when dealing with client assets.
This is of particular relevance when the lines between a role as a solicitor and a close friend are blurred. Whether or not a client consents to a transaction, or even pushes for a certain action to be taken, legal and regulatory principles should be adhered to. Solicitors must maintain the trust placed in them by the public and recognise the position of confidence that they hold, no matter how informal the relationship is with the client.