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04 February 2020

Tribunal dubs top UK lawyer's sexual misconduct as spontaneous lack of judgement

Tribunal ruling reveals why it fined former Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith

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A UK disciplinary tribunal fined a top law firm partner for sexual misconduct – rather than imposing a more severe penalty – because  his behaviour was caused by a ‘lapse of judgement’ that was ‘highly unlikely to be repeated’, it has been revealed.

In a detailed ruling released today (4 February), the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has outlined the reasons behind its controversial decision to fine Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Ryan Beckwith after it found an allegation of sexual misconduct against him proven.

In a decision that was met with outrage by campaigners, according to The Independent newspaper, Beckwith was fined £35,000 with £200,000 costs after a seven-day hearing last October.

The tribunal found that he had engaged in sexual activity with a junior female colleague when he knew – or ought to have known - that she was heavily intoxicated and/or her judgement and decision-making ability was impaired.

The tribunal ruled that he had breached Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) principles in that he failed to act with integrity or behave in a way that maintained public trust.

The incident had occurred in the flat of his colleague – referred to as person A – after a night of drinking with other Freshfields team members. A second allegation that  on a separate occasion Beckwith kissed or attempted to kiss his colleague in a pub where he was in a position of seniority or authority was found unproven.

In today’s ruling the tribunal said Beckwith’s conduct had harmed the profession’s and Freshfields’ reputation and ‘caused significant harm to person A’, who had ‘suffered and continued to suffer, as a result of their encounter’.

However, it said the ‘spontaneous’ misconduct was ‘a single episode of brief duration’ caused by ‘a lapse in his judgement that was highly unlikely to be repeated’. 

The ruling added: ‘The Tribunal did not find that the respondent posed a future risk to the public. There had been no clients involved and there was no suggestion that the work of the respondent was anything other than highly competent. Nor did it consider that the respondent posed a future risk to the reputation of the profession.’

Beckwith, who resigned from Freshfields on the day the misconduct was found proven, had denied the allegations.

The SRA was represented by Riel Karmy-Jones QC, of Red Lion Chambers, and Rupert Allen, of Fountain Court, instructed by regular panel advisers Capsticks; Beckwith was represented by Alisdair Williamson QC, of 3 Raymond Buildings, instructed by Nick Brett, of  Brett Wilson.

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