Tom Longstaff acts on behalf of Solicitors Regulation Authority in committal proceedings
November 17, 2021
Tom Longstaff from Exchange Chambers, instructed by Mr Alistair Gregory of Stephensons LLP, has successfully acted in committal proceedings brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”).
In an interesting and unusual case, in March of this year the SRA intervened into the law firm ‘JP Legal’ under the Solicitors Act 1974. That intervention was commenced as a result of a number of concerns about the management of the practice and a change in the regulatory status of the sole proprietor of the firm, Mr Jakub Pawlak, which followed the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 1 January 2021.
Following the intervention, the SRA experienced difficulty in tracking down the client files of the firm, which had previously offered its services to the public in a number of practice areas, and was based in Stockport. Those difficulties were caused by a lack of cooperation from Mr Pawlak, and his claim that client files had been ‘stolen’ shortly after the intervention, such that they could not be located.
An application for injunctive relief was brought in May of this year, when Tom Longstaff first appeared in a without notice application on behalf of the SRA. An order was made by HHJ Cawson QC permitting the SRA to search an address known to be associated with Mr Pawlak, and requiring him to deliver up all client files in his possession. Those terms were continued at the return hearing on 7 June 2021, which also required Mr Pawlak to provide a full and proper account of the whereabouts of any missing client files.
Subsequent investigatory work undertaken by the SRA and Stephensons LLP, suggested that JP Legal was continuing to trade as a law firm, including by making requests to former clients for payment and continuing to correspond on their behalf.
An application was then made by the SRA on 2 July 2021 to commit Mr Pawlak to prison for contempt of court, which was heard in Manchester on 4 November 2021. In advance of the hearing, Mr Pawlak had elected not to file any written evidence in response to the application, and did not attend for cross-examination.
In his judgment, HHJ Cawson QC, found that Mr Pawlak had acted in contempt of court in failing to deliver up paper and electronic client files to the SRA, and which he found were in the possession or control of Mr Pawlak when the earlier orders requiring delivery up had been made.
An adverse inference was drawn from the decision of Mr Pawlak not to file any evidence in response to the serious allegations made against him, or to attend court for questioning. In making that finding, HHJ Cawson QC said that Mr Pawlak had taken a “conscious decision not only not to attend any hearing in person, but also not to give evidence because he was aware that his evidence would not stand up to scrutiny, and that by attending at Court, rather than remaining in Poland, he would be exposing himself to arrest in the event that he was found to have acted in contempt of court”.
Mr Pawlak will be sentenced at a later date. This is the first time that committal proceedings have been brought by the SRA and proceeded to a full trial with a finding of contempt.
A copy of the judgment can be found here.