A solicitor who misled a court by using Tipp-Ex to alter a statement of truth has been fined £7,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT found that Roger Paul Jackson’s actions were “spontaneous”, but had contributed to his clients’ personal injury claim being struck out.
The tribunal heard that Mr Jackson was reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) by Weightmans, the defendant lawyers in the case, in November 2014.
“Weightmans reported that the respondent had altered a statement of truth from an earlier particulars of claim in order to mislead the court into believing that the claimants had verified the amended particulars of claim as served on the defendant.”
Mr Jackson, who was a salaried partner at Manchester-based BPS Law at the time, was born in 1958 and qualified in 1983. He initially represented three claimants in the case – the driver of a car involved in a collision and his passengers. The solicitor prepared a statement of claim, including a statement of truth signed by the claimants, in September 2012.
The tribunal heard that Mr Jackson was later instructed to act only for the passengers and amended the particulars of claim, also changing the date of birth of one of the passengers. He issued proceedings in October 2013.
“On receipt of the proceedings, Weightmans noted that the statement of truth on the amended particulars of claim was still dated 28 September 2012 and appeared to be the same statement of truth which was previously signed by three claimants.
“The page had been manually altered to remove the name of the driver and his proposed status as ‘first claimant’ by the use of Tipp-Ex. The document has also been altered to show the two passengers as ‘first claimant’ and ‘second claimant’ by handwriting on the statement of truth.”
Weightmans applied to have the claim struck out, an application which was granted in May 2014, in part because the particulars of claim had not been verified by a valid statement of truth.
Mr Jackson argued before the SDT that CPR 17.1(1) allowed a party to amend his statement of case at any time before it is been served on every other party.
His secondary position was that even in cases where the permission of the court was required, it was only required to be re-verified where the substance of the statement of case was changing, which was not what happened here. The solicitor submitted that the district judge had erred in law.
Finding against him, the SDT said that part 17 was only applicable to claims that had been issued and addressed the issue of amendments in those circumstances.
It said: “Even if the respondent had discussed the content of the revised particulars of claim with his clients, for which there was no compelling evidence, the proper procedure was to either get them to sign a new statement of truth and particulars of claim, which he had attempted to do, or sign it himself with a statement confirming that he was authorised to do so.
“The tribunal noted that the respondent had been approaching a limitation deadline and it was in that context that he had decided on the course of action that he took, namely altering the existing statement of truth without any justification for doing so.”
Though this finding meant it was not necessary to assess whether or not the change of claim was substantial, the tribunal said removing one of the claimants was a “small but material” change.
“The district judge had found that the respondent’s explanations lacked credibility and were disingenuous. The tribunal agreed with that assessment having heard the respondent give evidence…
“The tribunal was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that by issuing proceedings using the altered documentation, the respondent had failed to uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice. In misleading the court and the defendant’s solicitors, the respondent had failed to adhere to a strict ethical code and had therefore lacked integrity.”
In mitigation, Mr Jackson accepted that “in an ideal world” the amended particulars of claim would have been signed by both clients. But he said this was an isolated incident and there had been no other similar examples.
Further, the district judge had not reported the respondent to the SRA and he argued that the decision to strike out the claim was draconian, given that it was based on a technicality.
On sanction, the tribunal recognised that Mr Jackson’s actions were “spontaneous and he had not acted in breach of the position of trust”.
However, the impact of the reputation of the profession was serious “as the integrity of documents is of fundamental importance to the trust the public places in the profession”.
The SDT continued: “The matters were aggravated by the fact that this was a deliberate and calculated act and he knew or ought to have known that he was in material breach of his obligations… Matters were mitigated by the fact that this was a single episode.”
He was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,000.
The SDT said that Mr Jackson was “currently doing some locum work”, having left BPS in June 2014.