A long-serving legal aid solicitor has been fined after his firm failed to pay more than £53,000 in disbursements to expert witnesses.

Keith Tallon, 70, admitted not knowing how to enter invoices on to the system and was found to have failed to keep proper accounting records for more than 15 years until his firm, south-east London practice Cook Taylor, was shut down in 2016.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard Tallon admitted retaining disbursements in the office account as his ailing firm struggled to stay afloat, but he had denied his actions amounted to a lack of integrity.

Instead, Tallon urged the tribunal to appreciate the difference between ‘moral soundness, rectitude and steady adherence to an ethical code, and steady adherence to a regulatory code’.

The solicitor said he either continued with the system he inherited from former partners, with experts being paid as time went by, or he stopped paying loyal staff and brought about the collapse of the firm.

But the tribunal said legal aid monies had been distributed for a specific reason and were either withheld or not paid for several years. It was noted Tallon continued to take ‘not insubstantial’ drawings while withholding disbursements over several years.

While Tallon could supply character references talking up his casework in the fields of child care and public law, they were considered of limited value when considering his lack of knowledge of his firm’s management systems. The solicitor of more than 44 years was found to have lacked integrity.

The tribunal heard this was not a case of someone committing financial irregularities to ‘feather his own nest’ but rather someone trying to keep the firm, which was also being pursued for an unpaid £230,000 tax bill, afloat and continue to pay his staff. He pointed out he had not left legal aid work even as cuts began to bite, but had remained available at all hours for his clients.

The tribunal accepted Tallon no longer wished to practise and fined him £2,500, with conditions imposed in case he did wish to return to the profession.

john Hyde,Law Gazzete

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