A Newton Stewart solicitor and a retired Stranraer solicitor have been fined £500 by the Law Society of Scotland after admitting they were guilty of professional misconduct by acting for both the seller and the buyer of a property in 2008.
The complaint against 63-year-old Peter Murray, a partner at the solicitors’ firm of A B & A Matthews, based in Newton Stewart, and 71-year-old Andrew Murray, a former partner at Hunter & Murray solicitors in Stranraer, was heard at a disciplinary tribunal in Edinburgh in May. A B & A Matthews trade as Hunter & Murray in Stranraer and, at the time of the transaction, Andrew Murray was working as an employee of Peter Murray.
Both lawyers were found to have breached the Solicitors (Scotland) Practice Rules 1986 when Andrew Murray acted for a couple purchasing a new-build home from a property developer and his wife, who were represented by Peter Murray. In conveyancing law there is prohibition on the same firm acting for both sides when one is a property developer.
The 11-page tribunal report found that Peter Murray was guilty of professional misconduct between April 29 and May 30, 2008, by failing to supervise his employee, Andrew Murray, when permitting him to act on behalf of the clients wishing to purchase the property when he was acting for the seller.
Andrew Murray was also found guilty of professional misconduct on the same dates by acting for the buyer when the firm he worked for also represented the seller and there was a clear conflict of interest.
In mitigation, Peter Murray’s lawyer James McCann, told the tribunal that this had been a single lapse in a long and reputable career. He added that his client had found the situation “most distressing” and had admitted his guilt from the outset.
Mr McCann said that Peter Murray’s mistake was not to insist on his view that his clients were developers as there was information which suggested that they might have been living in the property. Mr McCann said that Mr Murray was normally extremely careful with regard to rules but that the conflict of interest rules were not always straightforward and it was a question of judgment in connection with what the definition of “developer” was.
Representing his client Andrew Murray, agent William McCreath said that Mr Murray no longer held a practising certificate and had been before a tribunal in 1995 when he was fined £10,000 and had a restriction put on his practising certificate which resulted in A B & A Matthews acquiring his firm. He conceded that as soon as there was an inclination that the sellers were property developers, he should not have continued to act for the buyers.
The tribunal’s vice-chairman, Malcolm McPherson, accepted that this conflict situation had occurred owing to a mistake rather than being deliberate and was a case of “bad judgment”. He also acknowledged that Peter Murray’s 30-year record within the profession was “exemplary”.