Ryan Beckwith, 41, did not abuse his position but had instead acted 'inappropriately'A married pina colada-loving 'Del Boy' lawyer has w
Ryan Beckwith, 41, did not abuse his position but had instead acted ‘inappropriately’
A married pina colada-loving ‘Del Boy’ lawyer has won a fight to overturn a decision to fine him £35,000 over a ‘sexual encounter’ with a junior colleague in her 20s.
Two high court judges ruled Ryan Beckwith, 41, did not abuse his position but had instead acted ‘inappropriately’.
A tribunal in January found Beckwith acted without integrity and brought the profession into disrepute over the incident in July 2016.
He brought an appeal against the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), arguing that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) was wrong to have concluded his conduct had breached principles set out in an official standards handbook for the profession.
In a ruling published on Friday, two High Court judges overturned the tribunal’s decision, finding in Mr Beckwith’s favour.
The judges ruled that the tribunal’s order for Mr Beckwith to pay a fine of £35,000 should be quashed.
It also overturned an order that Mr Beckwith should pay costs of £200,000.
It was previously reported Mr Beckworth had ‘no idea’ where his wife was on the night he was accused of groping a junior employee.
The woman claimed she was ‘exceptionally drunk’ from works drinks when she woke naked in bed to find Beckwith telling her she had ‘nice tits’ and asking for a condom.
Her boss, a partner at one of the City’s so-called Magic Circle of legal firms, then left after a call from his wife at 4am on July 2, 2016.
Legal experts said the case would have been rejected ‘only a few years ago’ by the SRA but had been taken seriously because of the ‘Me Too’ movement.
Beckwith was a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP – one of the City’s so-called Magic Circle of legal firms (offices pictured)
A disciplinary tribunal was told Beckwith was cautioned by his boss after holding hands with the same junior lawyer two months before she accused him of sexual assault.
He was warned to be ‘careful’ and told ‘I think she likes you’ by his boss following a works do which began with lunch at Raymond Blanc’s Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
Beckwith claimed the senior partner wagged his finger at him on the night to stop him kissing the woman after they were ‘inseparable’ and seen holding hands.
But two months later, the woman, who was drunk from another works drinks, alleged Beckwith groped her after he went to her flat with her in a taxi.
Today’s judgment says the SDT had ‘found that what it described as a “sexual encounter” had occurred’ between Mr Beckwith – who then worked for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – and the unnamed junior associate.
Beckwith and the woman who complained about him went to her home after a night at The Harrow pub opposite the firm’s central London offices in July 2016
The tribunal rejected an allegation that he had acted in abuse of his position of seniority or authority but ‘found instead that by engaging in sexual activity with Person A, he had acted ‘inappropriately’.’
Taking to the witness stand last year, the father-of-one denied kissing the woman after an earlier ‘lavish’ works bash at the world famous restaurant in Oxfordshire a few months prior to the other incident.
Beckwith told the hearing he was state school educated in Basildon, Essex where he grew up.
He said: ‘When I received that allegation and it was discussed as part of the firm’s investigation, I racked my brain as to what they might mean and the only thing I could come up with is that I’ve a vague recollection of bending down as if to kiss her on the top of the head in a completely innocent way, as I do with friends and acquaintances and family members and have done that for years.
‘The only thing I’m sure about is that I didn’t kiss her on the top of the head in that way and I don’t think she saw me going to kiss her on the head because there was no reaction to it.
‘I certainly did not kiss her or go to kiss her or kiss her on the lips in the way she suggests.’
Beckwith told the tribunal that has an ‘Essex accent’ and likes the taste of Pina Coladas, just like David Jason’s character in Only Fools and Horses (stock image)
The Tribunal went on to find that Mr Beckwith’s actions breached two principles set out in the SRA’s handbook – the obligation to act with integrity and the requirement to ‘behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in solicitors and in the provision of legal services,’ the High Court judgment says.
But, in their ruling, Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Swift said the tribunal’s ‘final reasoning’ in support of its conclusion that Mr Beckwith had breached the requirement to act with integrity ‘goes no further than that his conduct had “fallen below the standards expected of a partner at the form” and had “fallen below accepted standards”‘.
The judgment reads: ‘Given the detailed findings the tribunal had made as to the events of the evening, we consider the Tribunal was clearly right to conclude that no abuse of authority had occurred.’
But it adds the tribunal then ‘fell into error’ by ‘categorising those events, as it has assessed them’ to be a breach of the obligation to act with integrity.
The judgment added: ‘In the context of the course of conduct alleged… the requirement to act with integrity obliged the appellant not to act so as to take unfair advantage of Person A by reason of his professional status.
‘On the findings made by the tribunal, that had not happened.
‘In the premises, the tribunal’s final statement that the appellant had “fallen below accepted standards” is not coherent.’
The two judges also found that the tribunal’s ruling that Mr Beckwith had breached the requirement to behave in a way that maintains public trust in solicitors was ‘flawed and cannot stand’.
The judgment says that the facts of the case as found by the tribunal ‘are not capable’ of supporting the conclusion that Mr Beckwith acted in breach of this requirement.
‘What the Appellant did affected his own reputation; but there is a qualitative distinction between conduct of that order and conduct that affects either his own reputation as a provider of legal services or the reputation of his profession.’
Last year Beckwith claimed the woman had made ‘untruthful and malicious’ claims that he sexually assaulted her in her flat after accusing him of blocking her for promotion, which he said was ‘ridiculous’.
He denied there was a ‘hard-core drinking’ culture at his team. He admitted having sexual activity with the woman in the July incident but branded her allegation of sexual assault a ‘complete fabrication’.
The woman admitted she was ‘disappointed’ about not being promoted to a higher pay grade in her first year after qualifying as an associate years before the alleged assaults.