News release

Record fine from SDT

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has handed down a record fine to a solicitor who took an unfair advantage of his former client.

Nigel Harvie, who worked at a firm with his name in Oxford, was fined £305,000 by the tribunal at a hearing last month. The previous highest amount was £50,000, handed down to firm Fuglers LLP, while the most an individual has been fined is £40,000.

Mr Harvie was also ordered to pay £37,016.40 costs at the hearing, held at the SDT in Farringdon Street, London, on 24-26 February. In a prosecution brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the SDT heard Mr Harvie admit that:

  • He entered into a financial arrangement with a former client without advising her to take independent advice, and where his own interests conflicted or potentially conflicted with the interests of the former client
  • He acted towards his former client in a way that was contrary to his position as solicitor

Mr Harvie denied that he used his position as a solicitor to take unfair advantage for himself or another party, but the SDT upheld this allegation as well.

In return for paying for the care and living costs of a lady, for whom he had acted previously, Mr Harvie acquired ownership of her house. The house was valued at £300,000 in 2005 when the arrangement began and over the next five years, Mr Harvie paid out in the region of £200,000.

The house was never valued again and the arrangement came to an end in 2010 when the former client died. The Land Registry recorded the value of the house at £800,000 in 2012.

The client had declared in her will that her estate should be used to set up a trust fund to help foreign students, but this has not happened. The matter was only discovered when neighbours of the deceased complained to the SRA that her wishes had not been carried out.

Mr Harvie asserted that the deceased lady had only been his client when he prepared her will for her in 2004, and that she was happy with the arrangement. He also claimed the co-executor of her estate was aware of his actions at all times.

In delivering the sanction, the tribunal said they were taking a very serious view of the circumstances of this matter. It also said the public would be appalled by the behaviour of Mr Harvie in taking unfair advantage of his former client and he had done significant harm to the reputation of the profession.

David Middleton, Executive Director for Legal and Enforcement, said: "The SRA is committed to working with solicitors and firms to raise standards and uphold core professional principles. Solicitors occupy unique positions of trust often on behalf of vulnerable members of the public.

"Mr Harvie abused that trust, and the record level of the fine clearly reflects the seriousness of this betrayal. Although Mr Harvie stated that his former client was happy with the arrangement put in place, he should have ensured that she seek independent advice at the outset because he stood to gain financially and therefore there was a clear conflict of interest."

Mr Harvie, who stopped practising as a solicitor in 2012, has 21 days from receipt of the SDT's decision to appeal. He has 12 months to pay the fine.

The decision will be published on the SDT's website, www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk.