A former high-flying Freshfields partner escaped being struck off after a sexual encounter with a junior lawyer because it was a “one-off incident” and “his judgement had been affected by the amount of alcohol he had consumed”, a tribunal ruling published today said.
Restructuring lawyer Ryan Beckwith was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay costs of £200,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) in October.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which brought the case, today said it was considering an appeal against the decision.
An SRA spokesperson said: “We are reviewing the judgment and will then decide on next steps.”
A junior lawyer at the firm had accused Beckwith of taking advantage of her when she was too drunk to consent to sexual activity.
Beckwith denied the accusations, and characterised the night the two spent at her flat as “a consensual sexual encounter between two adults”.
In its judgment, published today, the SDT panel found Beckwith was in a position of responsibility over the the junior lawyer (Person A) and he knew she was “heavily intoxicated and that her judgement and decision making ability was impaired”.
It said Beckwith’s conduct engaging in sexual activity with Person A was inappropriate and considered he owed his junior colleague a duty of care.
In reaching the decision not to suspend or expel Beckwith from the profession, the tribunal said “this was a single episode of brief duration”.
The tribunal said Beckwith had “displayed genuine insight” and said his conduct was caused by a “lapse in his judgement that was highly unlikely to be repeated”.
It said it “did not find that the respondent posed a future risk to the public”.
It said this was “a one-off incident where there was no suggestion that he had coerced or manipulated Person A”.
It said he had not plied Person A with drinks or used his position or authority to engineer the sexual encounter.
“The tribunal considered that the respondent had engaged in inappropriate conduct in circumstances where his judgement had been affected by the amount of alcohol he had consumed,” the judgment said.
“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,” the tribunal found.
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The SDT hearing was not focused on the issue of consent, with Beckwith accused of conduct “unbecoming of a member of the profession”.
The chair of the SDT panel, Nicola Lucking, said in October: “We have not made findings on the question of consent.”
Beckwith resigned from the firm on the day of the SDT’s findings on 10 October. He had previously been suspended from the firm.
Average partner pay at Freshfields last year was £1.8m, with top partners able to earn up to £3.5m.
Beckwith’s solicitor was contacted for comment.