Scottish solicitor fined £5,000 over delay in administering executry

Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal
Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal

A Scots lawyer who delayed administering the estate of a deceased client of his firm after having failed to make proper attempts to contact the beneficiary has been fined £5,000.

Gary Pirrie, 50, was found guilty of “professional misconduct” by the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) over his failure to communicate with the complainer for nearly seven years between 2009 and 2016, his delay in making over a pecuniary legacy and his failure to respond to correspondence in respect of the matter.

The tribunal heard that in June 2009 a client of the firm of Alex Mitchell & Sons in Musselburgh, where the respondent was the principal partner, had died testate and left his heritable property and a pecuniary legacy of £5,000 to his niece.

After the respondent completed the initial correspondence a colleague wrote to the complainer in November 2009, but the letter was returned marked “not delivered”.

The next letter was sent by the respondent in March 2011 – to the same address as before – but again no response was received.

The respondent made no further attempts to write or trace the complainer until July 2015, when he instructed a firm of investigators to try to locate her.

She was eventually traced in January 2016 and contact was facilitated, but it was April 2016 when they spoke for the first time and the respondent advised the complainer of the legacies left to her.

He then failed to respond to a letter from the complainer seeking clarification on a number of points and when they eventually met in on 7 July 2016 he did not give any explanation when she asked him what had caused the six-year delay.

The respondent did give an undertaking at the meeting that he would send a cheque for the pecuniary legacy of £5,000 the next day, but the cheque he sent was for only £2,051 because, as he explained, he required to recover the balance to make the full payment.

The complainer spoke with the respondent on 1 August 2016 advising that she wished to take up residency in the heritable property her uncle had left for her.

She also instructed solicitors in respect of the outstanding queries she had about the executry, but the respondent failed to respond to a letter from the complainer’s lawyers.

The complainer moved into the property later in August 2016, but the respondent had still not sent any communication regarding the legal transfer of the property into the complainer’s name to her.

The respondent eventually sent the complainer the balance of her pecuniary legacy on 10 August 2018 – more than two years after he undertook to do so.

The respondent told the tribunal that he accepted that he had “allowed matters to slip” and admitted that the delay in progressing the executry and the failure to communicate was “serious and reprehensible”, but argued that he had not been dishonest and there was no suggestion that he was lacking in integrity.

He said that when his only partner in the firm resigned in October 2014 he had not finished his outstanding cases, which created “professional difficulties” for the respondent, who was also experiencing “personal problems” at the time.

The respondent, who had a previous finding of unsatisfactory professional conduct, pleaded guilty.

The tribunal decided to censure the respondent and fine him £5,000 after concluding that his conduct fell below the standards expected of a competent and reputable solicitor.

In a written decision, SSDT Acting Vice Chair Beverley Atkinson said: “Solicitors must communicate effectively. They must complete work adequately and completely within a reasonable time.

“This tribunal has repeatedly held that failure to complete executries in a reasonable time and to communicate effectively can constitute professional misconduct.

“The tribunal noted the significant delay in this case, the poor communication with the complainer and her solicitors the fact that the matter was still not resolved.

“In these circumstances it was satisfied that the respondent’s failures represented a serious and reprehensible departure from the standards of competent and reputable solicitors and was therefore professional misconduct.”

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2019

Other judgments by Acting Vice Chair Beverley Atkinson