“In style outcry isn’t any proof”: Beckwith’s #MeToo determination was overturned in a controversial courtroom ruling
Former partner of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Ryan Beckwith, appealed to the High Court against the findings of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal against him in a high-level sexual misconduct case.
The Queen’s Bench Division today (November 27) overturned the October 2019 Tribunal’s findings that Beckwith’s conduct towards a junior attorney violated Principles Two and Six of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Code of Conduct and required attorneys to “act with integrity act ”and“ conduct ”in a manner that maintains public confidence in you and in the provision of legal services. ”
Beckwith appealed liability and cost premiums to the High Court in February after the SRA, which brought the case to the SDT for prosecution in June 2018, stated that it had violated the sanctions imposed on a £ 35,000 fine and order no appeal would pay legal fees of £ 200,000.
The judgment of the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Lady Justice Sharp DBE, and the judge responsible for the Administrative Court (Beckwith v Solicitors Regulation Authority)  EWHC 3231 (Admin)), Justice Swift, reversed the finding that Beckwith had violated Principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles, reversed his fine, and overturned the Cost Regulations.
The case centered on two alcohol-related incidents in 2016 involving a junior attorney referred to as “Person A” – who Beckwith kissed or tried to kiss Person A, over whom he was in a senior position, and who he was initiated and / or engaged in sexual activity with the same person. Both Beckwith and Person A, then Magic Circle company employees on the restructuring team, were reportedly intoxicated at festivities organized by Freshfields.
The SDT dismissed the SRA’s case that Beckwith had abused his position of authority, but found that he had violated both principles because his behavior was “inappropriate” during sexual activities.
The court’s recent ruling in favor of Beckwith is divided as Beckwith was fined at the time instead of being barred from exercising the right as the #MeToo movement continued to rage.
The appeal focused on whether the SDT had erred by not first determining whether or not Beckwith’s actions were “professional misconduct”; and whether the findings of fact were in violation of one or both of the principles and provisions relating to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a private life).
The court described the costs incurred by the SRA as “alarming” and expressed its deep sympathy for the points raised by the “complainant” on the matter.
Beckwith was represented by Nick Brett of Brett Wilson, who hired Alisdair Williamson QC at Three Raymond Buildings. The SRA was represented by Capsticks and hired Riel Karmy-Jones QC of Red Lion Chambers and Rupert Allen of Fountain Court.
Brett Wilson said in a post on his website: “This important ruling requires some major advancement to ensure the safety required to regulate the conduct of legal professionals outside the workplace in the modern world. Sexual relationships between coworkers are and always have been a part of life in the workplace. This is unlikely to change. Many such relationships work perfectly and often result in long-term unions. Some may be more dysfunctional, but still consensual, regardless of rank and status. Consent to sexual activity is a fact of life and shouldn’t attract regulatory interventions without very good reason. ‘
The court concluded: “Regulators will do well to recognize that it is all too easy to be dogmatic without knowing it. The public outcry is not evidence that any particular series of events lead to matters falling within the purview of a regulator. “