Cumbrian law firm Waugh & Musgrave has been fined by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for a significant and prolonged failure to fulfill an undertaking in a conveyancing transaction.
The firm cited pressures of work, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Land Registry backlog as contributing factors to the delays, with no apparent harm caused. To prevent a recurrence, Waugh & Musgrave has implemented measures such as a file undertaking form, an undertakings register, and diary reminders.
In 2017, the firm, a recognised sole practice, committed to fulfilling certain obligations, including the submission of the title transfer and notifying HM Land Registry of the property’s ownership change. However, the firm failed to meet these commitments within a reasonable timeframe, as stated in a regulatory settlement agreement published recently by the SRA.
The firm cited various factors in mitigation, including work pressures, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and delays within the Land Registry system. Fortunately, no harm resulted from these delays.
Waugh & Musgrave has since taken measures to prevent a recurrence of such issues. These measures include implementing a file undertaking form for reference, reminders of commitments, and a schedule of key dates. The firm has also established an undertakings register and incorporated diary reminders for all commitments.
The SRA deemed a fine as the appropriate sanction, serving as a deterrent for both the firm and others. The SRA emphasised the significant role undertakings play in conveyancing matters and the reasonable expectation that solicitors engaged in related transactions should understand and execute their duties promptly.
The SRA acknowledged that the error was not intentional, nor was it due to recklessness or gross negligence. It recognized that the firm’s lack of attention to detail occurred during a period of competing demands and commended the firm’s efforts at remediation.
The fine imposed was £1,600, but it was reduced by 10% to account for the firm’s cooperation, admissions, and remedial actions.
In a related development, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers expressed concern in August about the increasing number of complaints against some of the practices it regulates regarding breaches of undertakings.