An assistant solicitor has admitted to having “fabricated” two expert reports, advice from counsel and a series of letters on a medical negligence case because she felt “completely panicked and couldn’t see a way out”.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) described the behaviour of Claire Tunstall as “quite extraordinary”, but said she had been “placed in an unenviable and wholly unacceptable position” by Cumbria firm Scott Duff & Co through a lack of support and supervision.
The tribunal was persuaded by the evidence of Ms Tunstall, based at the firm’s Keswick office in the Lake District and two years’ qualified at the time the conduct started, that “she had been struggling to cope to the extent that she contemplated having an accident so that she wouldn’t have to go to work anymore”. Ms Tunstall admitted to making false entries on the firm’s time-recording system,to try and give herself more time to catch up. Also paying a personal injury client more than the amount agreed at settlement. The assistant solicitor later explained to the SRA that when she informed the client of the defendant’s offer of £3,000, he “had been persistent and wanted an offer of about £4,000”.
Rejecting the allegation of dishonesty, the SDT concluded: “The tribunal accepted the respondent’s evidence in its entirety and found, in this particular case, that the applicant had not substantiated beyond reasonable doubt that the respondent knew at the time that her conduct would be regarded as dishonest by the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people. The tribunal was satisfied that the respondent had not been thinking rationally at the time and had not given any thought at all to the question of dishonesty. She had simply been trying to keep her head above water in extremely difficult circumstances.”
Ms Tunstall now has a job outside the law and told the SDT she would never return to the profession.