UK Law Society: Trainee solicitor cleared after giving colleague suggestive Christmas card

A trainee solicitor who gave a colleague a Christmas card with sexual references was wrongly rebuked by an SRA adjudicator, the tribunal has found.

Adam Fouracre, representing himself, appealed the decision to impose sanctions, saying the adjudicator should not have concluded his actions had gone beyond the ‘private sphere’.

The case has wider implications for the profession, as Fouracre cited the High Court decision in Beckwith v Solicitors Regulation Authority, where a former magic circle partner was cleared of sexual misconduct after a finding there was a ‘qualitive distinction’ between behaviour which affects the individual’s reputation and that which affects the reputation of the profession.

In Fouracre’s case, the tribunal said the adjudicator had been wrong to dismiss his argument that Beckwith was of direct relevance to his case.

The tribunal said the conduct as described had been ‘reprehensible’ and tarnished Fouracre’s own reputation, but ruled the adjudicator had not considered the relevant issue of whether it realistically touched upon the standing of the profession, as set out in Beckwith. The tribunal found the rebuke decision had not satisfied this test and should be revoked.

The tribunal heard that Fouracre, a trainee solicitor with Dentons UK and Middle East LLP, had already received a warning for a crass comment to secretaries at an office party. He was then reported to the firm by another trainee seconded to the firm who had received a Christmas card from him.

In its message, he talked about buying her a vibrator for Christmas and said it would give her a ‘proper buzz’. The message finished with an invitation to meet in the new year and signed off with ‘Wishing a sexy Yorkshire babe a great Christmas. Love Adam xxx’. He also gave the woman two presents which were handed back to him, and sent messages to her personal mobile phone.

The SRA’s investigations officer initially recommended a £2,000 fine, which was downgraded to a rebuke by an adjudicator. In their decision notice, it was stated that activities carried out from an office ‘must be broadly interpreted to include conduct and behaviour between work colleagues, including other trainees. This applies unless and until any work relationship moves into the private sphere. This is not such a case’.

Fouracre appealed on several grounds. He said the adjudicator was wrong to state that the conduct was in relation to his role and position at the firm and not in his private life. He also argued that when he left the card he had ceased his duties as a trainee solicitor and was leaving the building to go home, so the adjudicator had no jurisdiction to impose any sanction.

The SRA submitted to the tribunal that there were no serious procedural or other irregularities in the proceedings which should require interference with the decision, adding that it was both proportionate and proper for the protection of the public and to maintain the reputation of the solicitors’ profession.

The tribunal allowed Fouracre’s appeal and made no order for costs.