There ‘can be no place for solicitors found guilty of dishonesty’ - High Court judge
Law Society granted declaration Daniel Downes not fit person to be in profession
“Clients have to be able to trust their solicitors to the ends of the earth. There cannot be question marks over their probity and honesty in relation to how they conduct their practice,” said Mr Justice Peter Kelly at the Four Courts in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
There can be “no place” in the solicitors profession for those found guilty of professional misconduct due to dishonesty in their practice, the president of the High Court has said.
“Clients have to be able to trust their solicitors to the ends of the earth. There cannot be question marks over their probity and honesty in relation to how they conduct their practice,” Mr Justice Peter Kelly said.
He made the comments when granting the Law Society’s application for a declaration that Daniel Downes is not a fit person to be a member of the solicitors profession.
Mr Downes, formerly practising as O’Dea & Company Solicitors, Eyre Square, Galway, was enrolled in 1981 and was struck off the roll of solicitors in 2014 on foot of various findings of professional misconduct made against him by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Mary Fenelon, solicitor for the Law Society, asked for the declaration for reasons including Mr Downes had sought to “circumvent” controls placed on his practice arising from a previous disciplinary history.
The controls included a requirement to have nominated solicitors sign cheques and Mr Downes was found by the SDT to have forged the signature of one of the nominated cheque signatories, thus circumventing the arrangement in the practice where all cheques had to be signed by two assistant solicitors, she said.
The SDT also found he created a false confirmation on a client’s file confirming an agreement to pay €85,000 to a named person and forging the client’s signature on that confirmation,
He also caused backdated letters and documents to be created and placed on client files during the investigation of his practice and provided information to the Law Society’s investigating accountant which later turned out to be false.
Opposing the application, counsel for Mr Downes said, while his client had not appealed the SDT findings, the declaration should not be granted for reasons including no client had lost money as a result of the solicitor’s conduct. The application was pointless in circumstances where Mr Downes had already been struck off the roll and the client whose signature was forged had become aware of that and had “no problem” with it, he added.
One of the SDT’s findings against Mr Downes, of failure to comply with an undertaking concerning a property, is the subject of separate litigation, the court heard.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Kelly said he did not agree making the declaration was a pointless exercise. If Mr Downes ever sought readmission to the roll of solicitors, it is important there should be a record of what findings were made by the court concerning his position as of now, he said.
In this case, the findings of forgery and breaches of regulations were serious, he said. Several of the findings of professional misconduct involved matters of dishonesty and there “can be no place for solicitors found guilty of dishonesty”.
The court had no option but to follow the SDT recommendation and declare Mr Downes is “not a fit and proper person” to be a member of the solicitors profession.
If Mr Downes was not struck off already, he would strike him off, the judge said.
While he took the point no one had lost money as a result of this matter, the sort of practices involved here must inevitably lead to both strike off and the declaration, the judge said.