The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has fined experienced solicitor Tim Bennett £5,000 and ordered costs of £8,000 as a result of a series of irate emails which he sent to STEP who were acting on a complaint made about Mr Bennett.
When STEP decided to take up a complaint made in 2015 about the use of funds Mr Bennett emailed the organisation’s professional standards manager asserting that STEP were carrying out a witch hunt against him and that he would not ‘stand trial at the behest of a crazy man’. He also said that the complainant lacked mental capacity.
Further emails followed to STEP, the complainant and to a third party which were described by STEP’s manager to SRA investigators as ‘rude, derogatory and offensive’. She said that the comments about the complainant’s mental health were particularly offensive and that she believed Mr Bennett’s emails were ‘designed to deliberately intimidate, harass and bully me into closing the complaint’.
Bennett has apologised and is not currently practising. He has also made comments about the unfounded nature of the complainant’s issue and regarding the inexperience of the case worker which he complains compounded the problems.
However many would say that the damage has been done – both to the individual lawyer’s reputation and to that of his firm. The tribunal said that STEP had been caught up in Bennett’s ‘toxic’ relationship with the complainant and he had taken his frustrations out on a staff member. They said his conduct was ‘completely unacceptable and was clearly aimed at undermining her role’.
Mr Bennett may well have been provoked and has made the point that there was ultimately no substance to the initial complaint and that he was under ‘extreme stress; during the period in question.
It can be all too easy for emotions to take over when handling complaints. Outsourcing handling complaints can be an effective way of introducing a neutral tone and of ensuring that the proper processes are observed.