A personal injury lawyer who persuaded other employees to fake client signatures and lied about it in court has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Lesley Dee Layton, based at Lance Mason Solicitors in Blackburn, also “directed the creation” of a claim form containing an accident date “which she knew to be untrue”.
Admitting all the allegations in an agreed outcome with the Solicitors Regulations Authority (SRA) and approved by the tribunal, Ms Layton said in mitigation that she had made “open and frank” admissions, “always co-operated” with the SRA and had a “previously unblemished career history”.
She went on: “I had always sought to uphold the rule of law and I am thoroughly embarrassed that it came to this”.
Ms Layton admitted that she had “caused to be created” two witness statements in which the signature of a client, referred to as GH, had been copied from another document.
She had been acting for GH in a personal injury claim and failed to obtain a signed witness statement from him by the deadline set by the court.
A few days later she “directed” an employee of the firm to copy GH’s signature from a different document onto a version of his witness statement, and emailed it to the solicitors for the defendants, BLM.
When BLM sent a letter saying that GH’s statement of truth “appeared to have been cut from another document and copied onto the statement”, Ms Layton created a second statement, directed another employee to fake GH’s signature, and sent it to the other side.
Responding to a request from BLM to see the original witness statement, Ms Layton “directed another individual” at the firm to “trace over the signatures” copied into her two witness statements with a ballpoint pen “in order to give the impression they were original signatures”.
GH’s claim was struck out in April 2015, but in a later statement for a costs hearing in September that year, Ms Layton claimed she had “acted appropriately and honestly throughout the matter”.
She insisted she had sent to BLM “what she thought were the original statements”, and could not explain the findings of an expert that “the signatures were copies which had been traced over with ballpoint pen”.
In a second matter, Ms Layton acted for KF in connection with a back injury he suffered working on a prison farm, but KF “could not recall the exact date on which the injury was sustained”.
By the time the three-year limitation deadline expired, in September 2015, Ms Layton had obtained a signed copy of the claim form, giving the accident date as “on or about the 24 September 2012”, but not the particulars of claim.
She sent a letter to the court on 29 September 2015, enclosing a claim form consisting of a second page signed and returned by KF in August and a first page which “she had directed the creation of”, and with a date for the accident of 30 September 2012.
Ms Layton admitted acting dishonestly by causing two versions of GH’s witness statement to be created into which signatures were copied, representing the statement as signed by GH and denying any wrongdoing, both to BLM and the court.
She also admitted acting dishonestly in respect of KF, by causing a claim form to be filed referring to an accident date which she did not believe to be correct and “which purported to have been signed by the client when she knew it had not”.
Ms Layton acknowledged that her actions led to the striking out of GH’s claim and had it been discovered by the court, there was a “high likelihood” that KF’s claim would have been struck out.
She agreed to be struck off of the roll and pay costs of £13,920.