As an organisation for women solicitors we are of course following the “Freshfields” case and have so far commented as follows:
We welcome the fact that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has taken the allegations of person A seriously and the Tribunal has found that Mr Beckwith had breached SRA principles 2 and 6 in that he failed to act with integrity and to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in [you] and in the provision of legal services.
Although we are unable to comment on the sanction in this particular case without seeing the full Judgment and the reasons to impose sanctions of a fine to Mr Beckworth of £35,000 and to order him to pay £200,000 in costs, we reserve judgment as to whether fines alone are sufficient and note that no finding was made on the point of sexual activity and consent. We will be interested to see the rational for this.
We are pleased to see that, as AWS London has advocated in the past, misconduct outside the formal workplace can now be the subject of disciplinary action by the Regulator. However, what really needs to change is the culture within law firms that allows such conduct to go undetected and ignored. We therefore also welcome the comment that Freshfields’ Senior Partner has taken steps to run a firm wide programme to ensure appropriate values and behaviours are upheld.
Whether or not, following the decision of the SDT, the SRA considers that a crime may have taken place is ultimately a matter for them. It is important though that this mechanism is open to the SRA, along with other professional organisations and regulators, and they use it as when they consider, on the evidence they have available to them, a referral is appropriate.
As the matter may now be subject to Appeal, we are reserving further comment.
Please see our recently filed a response to the Government Consultation on Sexual Harassment at Work for further information. The full version can be downloaded at HERE.