Thursday 10 October 2019 2:49 pm

Ex-Freshfields partner escapes strike off after sexual misconduct allegations upheld

An ex-Freshfields partner escaped being struck off today after a tribunal found he had engaged in sexual activity with a heavily intoxicated junior lawyer.

Ryan Beckwith, 41, tearfully hugged and kissed his wife after the sanction was handed down.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) fined Beckwith £35,000 and ordered him to pay costs of £200,000.

The panel dismissed another allegation that Beckwith had kissed the unnamed junior lawyer, known as Person A, on another occasion.

Beckwith resigned from Freshfields this morning.

In a statement, his solicitor Nick Brett of Brett Wilson, said: “Mr Beckwith is disappointed with the finding of the tribunal. He is presently taking advice on the outcome and it would not be appropriate for him to comment further at this stage.”

Read more: Ex-Freshfields lawyer says incident with married partner left her with mental health problems

Restructuring partner Beckwith, a married father of one, was accused by a former junior lawyer of the firm of taking advantage of her when she was too drunk to consent.

Beckwith denied the accusations, and characterised the night the two spent together at her flat as “a consensual sexual encounter between two adults”.

The SDT hearing was not focused on the issue of consent, with Beckwith accused of conduct “unbecoming of a member of the profession”.

The head of the panel, Nicola Lucking, said: “We have not made findings on the question of consent.”

The panel found that Beckwith knew or ought to have known that Person A was intoxicated to the extent her judgement was impaired and knew or ought to have known his conduct was inappropriate.

Read more: Ex-Freshfields lawyer accused of lying about sex assault allegations

Lucking said: “Finding is the respondent knew or ought to have known Person A was intoxicated to the extent her judgement was impaired.”

And that he “knew or ought to have known his conduct was inappropriate”.

In mitigation, Beckwith’s barrister Alisdair Williamson QC, said the “finding of the tribunal renders all dust for Beckwith”.

He added: “He is a man who will bear this mark forever, he is a man, who other than this blemish, was a shining example to the profession.” 

The SDT found that Beckwith breached principles two and six of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) principles: acting with integrity and behaving in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services.

The unnamed junior lawyer, known as Person A, initially did not report the incident, either to the firm or to authorities.

“I thought a lot about reporting it to the police… you read a lot about how awful it is doing that,” she said earlier in the proceedings, giving evidence from behind a screen.

Read more: One in three female lawyers sexually harassed at work, comprehensive survey shows

She later reported the incident to the firm which launched an investigation that led to Beckwith receiving a final written warning.

Person A said she decided to escalate the incident at that point, writing to the firm’s senior partner Edward Braham to complain that her complaint had not been taken seriously enough. 

“I had concerns that my experience hadn’t been taken seriously and that was reflected in a sanction that in my view wasn’t proportionate or serious enough,” she said.

Person A alleged Beckwith had tried to kiss her after a boozy work trip to Oxford, which she alleged culminated in Beckwith being slung, drunk, into the back of a black cab.

The second incident happened after an evening of drinking in The Harrow pub near the firm’s Fleet Street offices.

Person A said she was “really very impaired”, and said Beckwith took advantage of her.

Read more: Freshfields increases partner pay to £1.84m

Beckwith said the encounter between the two was a “mutual mistake” and said that Person A instigated the physical contact between the two.

Beckwith took indefinite leave from the firm on 20 December. He resigned from the firm today.

Braham said: “We note the ruling of the SDT tribunal earlier today.  Ryan Beckwith has been on indefinite leave from the firm for some time and has now resigned as a partner with immediate effect.

“The firm takes all complaints extremely seriously.  We want a culture that is welcoming and allows our people to flourish, and we work hard to achieve that.  We are running a firm-wide programme to ensure our values and behaviours are consistently experienced across the firm, and I am confident that we will continue to achieve.”

Average partner pay at Freshfields last year was £1.8m, with top partners able to earn up to £3.5m.