solicitor fined for misleading clients about case progress to ‘buy time’

A solicitor who repeatedly misled clients – claiming she wanted to buy herself time to deal with a busy workload – has been struck off the roll.

Catherine Sandbach was found to have told ‘mistruths’ on three separate matters to conceal her own inaction, providing them with false reassurances about progress on their cases.

Sandbach, admitted in 2009, had already said she was leaving the profession for good, and she was banned by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal following a regulatory settlement agreement between herself and the SRA.

The tribunal heard that Sandbach admitted dishonesty in relation to all three matters. She told one client a boundary dispute was progressing through the court when she knew court proceedings had not been issued. She did the same – this time over a period of nine months – with a client in a business dispute matter. Sandbach also acted for a client on an annulment of a bankruptcy order and admitted fabricating and backdating an email purportedly sent to the Insolvency Service in order to mislead him into believing she had acted on his instructions.

Sandbach’s misconduct took place while she was a solicitor in the litigation department in the Bedford office of Woodfines Solicitors. She was dismissed in 2016.

In mitigation, which was not endorsed by the SRA, Sandbach said she was under a great deal of stress and claimed to have a ‘significant’ workload, with limited resources offered by her employer. She said she was expected by the firm to deal with matters beyond her experience as a solicitor, which exacerbated her stress. She produced a medical report saying her conduct was influenced by work-related stress which brought on symptoms of anxiety and depression. She was sorry for the difficulties faced by clients as a result of her behaviour and made no personal gain from what she did, claiming her actions were ‘simply to buy herself more time to deal with her ever-increasing workload’.

In a statement, the firm said it had not previously seen Sandbach’s allegations and it believed she had been treated fairly at all times. The firm ‘refuted her allegations’ and pointed out that the SRA found no evidence to suggest it acted inappropriately in any way.

A spokesman added the firm has a reputation for being a friendly place to work, with a supportive culture.

Sandbach was ordered to pay £2,600 costs.

The Law Society Gazette

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