It was just over two years ago that I wrote about the disturbing case of Claire Matthews who found herself struck off after leaving a briefcase on train. Her desperate attempts to try and retrieve the situation ended badly –

The disciplinary tribunal referred to the damage to the reputation of the profession –

“The damage to the reputation of the profession by the Respondent’s misconduct was significant as the public would trust a solicitor not to conceal the loss of data by telling untruths to their colleagues and their employer. The Respondent’s conduct was a significant departure from the complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness expected of a solicitor.”

I commented at the time that her treatment was a stark contract to that of a senior member of the bar who was suspended after headbutting a junior, female colleague.

There was an understandable outcry about the way Claire had been treated. It was particularly disturbing that there had been little consideration of her mental health.

Leigh Day and three leading barristers agreed to act for her pro bono. In March 2021 the Law Society Gazette reported that following submission of medical evidence, her case was to be referred back to the SDT –

We have now had the news that the entire case against her has been dropped. She can restart her career. This is clearly good news for her. It is a credit to her that she has continued the fight. It is also a credit to the profession that the almost unanimous cry that this was wrong has been heard. But it is a shame that it came to this. We have to ask what has damaged the reputation of the profession; a simple mistake in extremely difficult circumstances or the pursuit of a young lawyer who presents no risk whatsoever? I think that some damage has been done. Most non lawyers who were aware of the story, shook their heads in disbelief.

If anything, positive comes from this it must be that there is a seismic shift in the way the legal profession treats threats similar cases. It is easy to criticise the SRA, SDT, employers etc. But to some degree don’t we all need to accept some responsibility.

There is now a refreshing move towards openness about mental health issues. I remember the time when it was a sign of weakness to admit to problems that can affect us all at some time. We must never again punish lawyers who are then become afraif to admit mistakes. All firms and chambers should actively promote a culture of openness and support.