This outcome was reached
by SRA decision.
In the matter of Ian Houghton (Unadmitted) of 101 Thirlmere Road, Partington, Manchester, M31 4PS
A person who is or was involved in legal practice but is not a solicitor and Section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974 (as amended)
Statement of findings
1. Considered allegations arising out of a Forensic Investigations Report dated 26 January 2010 in relation to the the conduct of Mr Houghton during the course of his employment as the Practice Manager at Davies & Gribbin Solicitors, in particular, his failure to comply with the Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998 concerning the payment and/or transfer of monies held in respect of unpaid professional disbursements from the office to client account within the period specified within the Rules. The Adjudicator noted that this led to a significant shortage in the firm's client account in May 2010 and that Mr Houghton had been dismissed by the firm for his failure to report these matters to the partners.
2. Mr Houghton was employed as the Practice Manager at Davies & Gribbin until 24 May 2010.
3. A Forensic Investigations Report (FI Report) dated 30 November 2010 identified issues relating to Mr Houghton’s conduct in respect of the firm's accounts in respect of which he had been responsible for day to day management. The FI Report identified that a significant shortfall existed in the firm's client account prior to May 2010 when Mr Houghton was dismissed by the firm. The shortfall had resulted from the holding back of cheques in respect of professional disbursements. The Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998 say that where client money in respect of unpaid professional disbursements is paid into a firm's office account, the disbursement must be paid or a sum of money equivalent to the disbursement should be transferred into the firm's client account account by the end of the next working day following receipt of the payment. Office account cheques had been retained at the firm as there were insufficient funds in the firm's office bank account to make the payments. The evidence suggested that the practice of holding back cheques had continued from September 2009.
4. A Forensic Investigation Report dated 30 November 2010 prepared by an Investigation Officer of the Solicitors Regulation Authority following an inspection at the firm, including reported admissions by Mr Houghton.
5. Letters from Mr Davies and Mrs Gribbin, partners at the firm, dated 19 January, 10 February and 17 February 2011.
6. The Adjudicator had carefully considered all the evidence provided.
7. The Adjudicator is satisfied that Mr Ian Houghton, not being a solicitor, was employed and/or remunerated by Davies & Gribbin.
8. During that period of employment and/or remuneration Mr Houghton was responsible for the day to day management of the firm's accounts and his acts and/or defaults in relation to those accounts involved conduct on his part that, in the opinion of the Adjudicator, make it undesirable for him to be employed in connection with a solicitors’ practice/recognised body.
9. In particular, Mr Houghton had failed to comply with the Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998 concerning the payment of and/or transfer of monies held in respect of unpaid professional disbursements from the office to client account within the period specified within the Rules. It is reported in the FI Report, a copy of which was forwarded to Mr Houghton for comment, that he had acknowledged to the Investigating Accountant that "..the practice of holding back cheques was wrong and that the matter should have been dealt with sooner".
10. Mr Houghton has not responded further to correspondence from the SRA.
11. The Adjudicator FOUND that Mr Ian Houghton of 101 Thirlmere Road, Partington, Manchester, M31 4PS who is or was involved in connection with a legal practice but is not a solicitor has, in the Adjudicator’s opinion, occasioned or been a party to, with or without the connivance of the solicitor or incorporated solicitors’ practice by whom he is or was employed, an act or default in relation to that legal practice which involved conduct on his part of such a nature that in the Adjudicator's opinion it would be undesirable for him to be involved in a legal practice in one or more of the ways mentioned in sub-section 1A of Section 43.
12. In reaching this conclusion the Adjudicator has noted the content of the FI Report dated 30 November 2010, and that Mr Houghton had made admissions regarding the retention of various cheques, which he had acknowledged had been improper.
The standard of proof is balance of probabilities.
13. Pursuant to Section 43(2) of the Solicitors Act 1974 (as amended) it is ordered that with effect from the date of the letter notifying Mr Houghton of this decision:
- (i) no solicitor shall employ or remunerate, in connection with his practice as a solicitor;
- (ii) no employee of a solicitor shall employ or remunerate, in connection with the solicitor’s practice;
- (iii) no recognised body shall employ or remunerate;
- (iv) no manager or employee of a recognised body shall employ or remunerate in connection with the business of that body Mr Ian Houghton of 101 Thirlmere Road, Partington, Manchester, M31 4PS except in accordance with a Society permission.
- (v) no recognised body or manager or employee of such a body shall, except in accordance with a Society permission, permit IAN HOUGHTON of 101 Thirlmere Road, Partington, Manchester, M31 4PS to be a manager of the body;
- (vi) no recognised body or manager or employee of such a body shall, except in accordance with a Society permission, permit IAN HOUGHTON of 101 Thirlmere Road, Partington, Manchester, M31 4PS to have an interest in the body.
18 April 2011