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‘Unlikely to be repeated’: SDT justifies sanctions in Freshfields’ Beckwith misconduct case

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s (SDT) controversial decision to fine instead of ban Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Ryan Beckwith was because his misconduct was ‘a lapse in his judgement’ and ‘unlikely to be repeated’.

The SDT published today (4 Feburary) its judgment detailing its full reasons after the tribunal last October fined Beckwith £35,000 and ordered him to pay costs of £200,000 for engaging in sexual activity with a junior female colleague in circumstances in which she was ‘intoxicated to the extent that her judgement was impaired’.

In the ruling, the SDT said that Beckwith’s misconduct ‘was caused by a lapse in his judgement that was highly unlikely to be repeated’ and did not find he posed a future risk to the public.

‘There had been no clients involved and there was no suggestion that the work of the respondent was anything other than highly competent. Nor did it consider that the respondent posed a future risk to the reputation of the profession,’ the judgment added.

The sanctions were made in light of the tribunal’s decision that ‘this was a one-off incident where there was no suggestion that he [Beckwith] had coerced or manipulated Person A [the junior lawyer]. It was not the applicant’s case that the respondent had deliberately plied Person A with drink with a view to getting her into such an intoxicated state that she would then engage in sexual activity.’

‘Nor was it the case that he had used his position of seniority and authority to engineer the sexual encounter,’ the decision adds.

The tribunal found that, although Beckwith had ‘engaged in inappropriate conduct in circumstances where his judgement had been affected by the amount of alcohol he had consumed,’ it did not find that the circumstances of the case were such that a restriction order was necessary in order to protect the public.

It describes the fine of £35,000 as ‘appropriate and proportionate in all the circumstances’.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which referred Beckwith to the SDT for prosecution in late June 2018, is weighing whether to appeal the decision.

An SRA spokesperson said: ‘We are reviewing the judgment and will then decide on next steps. We have 21 days from today, publication day, to lodge any appeal, if there is one.’

In October, the tribunal found Beckwith’s behaviour was in breach of principles two and six of the solicitors’ code of conduct, requiring solicitors to ‘act with integrity’ and ‘behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services’.