A HOLIDAY claims firm neglected to inform clients of fee-sharing deals with ‘introducers’, a legal watchdog has found.

Bosses at Opes Law had such agreements with eight separate outfits, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) was told.

This entitled these third parties to half of the fees involved in successful travel sickness cases - or 25 per cent of the client’s damages.

John William Duncombe was a director of Opes, which traded in Prestwich before relocating to Saddleworth, from August 2015 to September 2017.

And after making a number of admissions at an SDT fitness to practise hearing, he is now serving a 12-month suspension. The final agreed ruling in his case has just been released by the tribunal.

Mr Duncombe admitted to causing or allowing an electronic signature to be used in respect of authorising holiday sickness claims for three clients, when they had not received any conditional fee agreements,

He also confessed to failing to act in the best interests of two other clients by failing to give adequate legal advice, when the firm failed to properly take evidence to back up their holiday sickness claims.

And in respect of three further clients, he conceded that he had transferred their files to a third party, Prospect Law, without consulting them.

The disciplinary body also found he had failed to register as a compliance office for the financial or legal aspects of running Opes. Furthermore unpaid professional fees were kept in the firm’s office account, leading a shortfall in their client account totalling £14,340.

In mitigation, Mr Duncombe said he was suffering from a serious medical condition, around that time, which was not being properly medicated.

And in 2016, the tribunal was told, his son was also diagnosed with a serious complaint and ended up in a hospital intensive care unit, which had taken up a great deal of the family’s time and attention.

Ruling he should be suspended from practising as a solicitor for 12 months, and pay £1,500 costs, SDT tribunal chairman Mr P Jones noted the misconduct was “not spontaneous”.

Mr Jones added: “(He) was a solicitor of 23 years qualification and it was encumbment on him to ensure that he complied with his regulatory obligations and responsibilities.

“Given the length of qualification and experience of (Mr Duncombe) he ought reasonably to have known the conduct complained of was in material breach of obligations to protect the public and the reputation of the legal profession.”