High Court suspends solicitor over €236,000 deficit in client account

Mr Justice Peter Kelly makes orders freezing funds of Shane Allen and Co Wicklow practice

A solicitor has been suspended from practising by the High Court after a Law Society investigation showed a deficit of nearly €237,000 on the client account of his Co Wicklow practice.

High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly also made orders, on consent, freezing accounts of Shane Allen and his practice, Allen & Associates, Mount Kennedy Town Centre, Newtownmountkennedy, and restraining him disposing of assets but with provision for him to withdraw €3,300 monthly from his personal account for living expenses.

The orders were made on Monday on the application of Nessa Bird BL, instructed by David Irwin, for the society, who said Mr Allen had conceded it will not be possible for him to remain in practice.

Gabriel Gavigan SC, instructed by solicitor Sean Sexton, for Mr Allen, told the judge there was a large amount of agreement on many of the orders sought.

However, instead of a suspension order, Mr Allen wished to provide an undertaking not to practice or hold himself out as a solicitor, counsel said. This was for reasons including how a suspension order, rather than an undertaking to like effect, might be viewed by clients.

Ms Bird said the society wanted a suspension order for reasons including the client account deficit arose from a dishonest handling of client funds and the need to protect both the public and reputation of the solicitors profession.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Kelly said the client account deficit was identified following an investigation by a chartered accountant for the society. There should never be a deficit on a client account and he was sure that Mr Allen, who was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 1977, “well knew that”, the judge said.

The society had applied to the court for the suspension and other orders because of its conclusion and opinion Mr Allen was guilty of dishonesty in his practise as a solicitor, he said.

The judge said he would make the orders sought, including suspending Mr Allen from practising or holding himself out as a solicitor, plus account freezing orders and various orders aimed at procuring an orderly winding down of the solicitor’s practice.

The judge said he was making a suspension order, rather than accept the undertaking offered, because, as far as the society was concerned, there had been been dishonesty and because a court order provides clarity and, unlike an undertaking, is binding on third parties and not just on the solicitor himself.

The judge, who retires from Wednesday, dealt with Solicitors Act matters for the last time on Monday. Counsel and solicitors involved in the list thanked him for the manner in which he had dealt with it over years and wished him a happy retirement.

Mr Gavigan and Ms Bird told the judge he applied exacting standards but had dealt with matters, not just with efficiency but also “kindness and compassion”. Mr Irwin told the judge he had a “first class legal mind” and compassion and Mr Sexton said he had shown “enormous generosity, patience and understanding” in some difficult cases in the list.

Thanking the lawyers, the judge said that where people work hard over years to become solicitors and then find themselves in difficulty, that is “a tragedy” and Mr Sexton deserved thanks for his work in many upsetting cases, including a recent one involving the suicide of a solicitor.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times