Portsmouth solicitor who faces two-year suspension vows to fight decision

TRIBUNAL Solicitor Michael Harris
TRIBUNAL Solicitor Michael Harris
Picture: Franca Perletti

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A LONG-SERVING solicitor who is facing suspension over a ‘cavalier disregard for the rules’ says he will fight the decision.

Michael Harris, who has been a solicitor for 46 years, has already lost an appeal against the decision by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

But with the two-year suspension due to start next Friday he says he is taking the matter to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Harris, of Harris & Co, based in Osborne Road, Southsea, said: ‘We have made a fresh application to the Court of Appeal and it’s still sub judice.

‘We have made contingency plans whereby the practice will continue.

‘We’re certainly not closing our doors on August 5, I can give assurances of that.’

He added: ‘There’s been no accusation of dishonesty against me, no client has lost money.

‘The whole thing is absolutely disproportionate in the extreme which is why we are appealing.’

The tribunal found a number of failings at Mr Harris’ firm.

It concluded he had drafted wills for two aunts, under which he stood to gain a substantial amount, without advising either of the women to seek independent legal advice. Other family members are now contesting those wills.

The tribunal also found that he had allowed £9,000 of clients’ funds to prop up his firm and stop him going over a £30,000 overdraft limit, but said this was ‘gross recklessness’ rather than an act of dishonesty.

He had failed to tell clients about fees paid to people who referred work to his firm and he had provided misleading costs information to clients in conveyancing matters.

There were three allegations against him related to accounting breaches.

The report also said Mr Harris was evasive and unreliable at times and would ‘say whatever he felt might assist his case and blame others if he thought this might help’.

The judgement from the SDT said: ‘The tribunal regarded the cumulative effect of this misconduct as showing a cavalier disregard for the Professional Rules.

‘These were serious and wide-ranging findings.

‘It also made the recommendation that, should the respondent return to practice at the end of the period of suspension, it should only be in an employed environment.’

Mr Harris, who is in his 70s, was ordered to pay costs which are yet to be set.