Solicitor’s long career ended after asking client for £100 payment
The Law Gazette
25 February 2022
Lawyers and clients communicate through a growing variety of channels. Over the past decade, the time spent on email, instant messaging, phone, and video calls rose 50% or more to consume at least 85% of most people’s workweeks. Then, the pandemic struck, which researchers say vaulted digital adoption rates five years forward in a matter of around eight weeks in 2020. Now, it seems we send IMs while we Zoom, as voice and video call times have doubled and IM traffic increased by 65%.
Michael Garstang, admitted to the roll in July 1978, made an agreed outcome with the SRA that he should be struck off after admitting three instances of dishonesty. The sanction was rubber-stamped last month by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Garstang, formerly a solicitor with national firm Cartwright King, had attended Winsford police station in September 2018 and represented a client during his police interview. Three days later he emailed the client requesting a cheque for £100 be sent to cover the cost of travel. Asked if a bank transfer was acceptable, Garstang confirmed it would and provided his details.
The client told SRA investigators he believed the payment was for Garstang’s time and travel expenses, and he had not been made aware that legal aid would cover these costs.
The client told the SRA he believed the payment was for Garstang’s time and travel expenses
He also reported that in early 2019, Garstang had phoned him and asked him to write a letter saying the £100 was a ‘thank you gift’ and not a payment for his time and travel expenses. Garstang dictated what he was to write, but the client found it ‘disconcerting’ and never wrote or sent the letter.
Garstang admitted inappropriately requesting and receiving the £100 from his client, and further admitted that he submitted a claim to the Legal Aid Agency for the case when a payment had been received. He also admitted making the call to the client.
In mitigation not endorsed by the SRA, Garstang said he had volunteered already to come off the roll and surrender his practising certificate. By taking full responsibility for his actions early on he had tried to minimise any further professional embarrassment to his former employers, colleagues and the profession.
He said that before this matter he had worked tirelessly as a dedicated criminal defence lawyer and been highly respected by colleagues, the judiciary and his clients.
He added that these charges were ‘completely out of character’ and brought to an end ‘what should otherwise be regarded as a legal career of great success’.
He agreed to pay the SRA’s costs of £16,950.
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