An experienced litigation solicitor has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after ‘stupidly’ forging a client’s signature in order to meet court deadlines.
Alastair James McGregor Gilfillan, admitted in 1997, was a fee earner at personal injury firm OCL Solicitors Limited when he sent a disclosure document to the court which purportedly bore his client’s signature, but which he had actually signed himself without his client’s knowledge or consent.
According to the tribunal’s judgment, Gilfillan subsequently sent a witness statement to the court containing a ‘statement of truth’ bearing his client’s signature, which gave the misleading impression that his client had seen and approved the statement when she had not.
In relation to the same personal injury matter – which arose from a road traffic accident – the tribunal found that Gilfillan knew, or ought to have known, that his client had no properly arguable basis for recovering the damages being claimed but did not take adequate steps to limit the claim.
The tribunal described the incident as a ‘sad case’ in which Gilfillan ‘had made very grave errors of judgement on one particular file that had been challenging’.
‘He had lost his focus on the key issues and had succumbed to acting inappropriately under pressure. He had had a previously long career with no blemishes but, as a very experienced solicitor, the respondent should have known that this was not the way to deal with a problem file,’ the tribunal said.
‘It was absolutely sacrosanct that solicitors did not mislead the court in any way. The respondent had become careless on two occasions and had acted stupidly. This eventually had a catastrophic effect on all aspects of his life.’
The tribunal added that Gilfillan’s motivation had been to file documents on time and that ‘it had some sympathy for the respondent dealing with a client who may been difficult to contact and was not responding to correspondence’. However, it found that Gilfillan had acted dishonestly on two occasions and had lacked integrity.
Gilfillan was struck off by the tribunal and ordered to pay costs of £9,000.