Ex-Freshfields lawyer appeals £35,000 fine over encounter with drunk colleague

Michael O'Dwyer
·2-min read
Ryan Beckwith, former partner at Freshfields
Ryan Beckwith, former partner at Freshfields

A former partner at City law firm Freshfields, who was fined over a sexual encounter with a junior female colleague in 2016, was “caught on the shifting sands of attitudes towards sexual behaviour”, his lawyers told at a court hearing on Tuesday.

Ryan Beckwith was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £200,000 in costs by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last year for breaching his professional duties and is appealing the sanctions against him in the High Court.

He has left Freshfields, one of the City’s elite Magic Circle firms, but avoided a ban from the profession after the tribunal found the events at the woman’s flat after a work event were “a one-off incident” and that “there was no suggestion that he had coerced or manipulated” the woman. 

The case is one of a series of high profile incidents of alleged sexual misconduct in the City, which is undergoing a shift in working culture in the wake of the Me Too movement. 

Alisdair Williamson QC told the High Court that Mr Beckwith had a “temporary lapse” of judgment rather than committing persistent, unwanted behaviour, the Law Society Gazette reported. 

Mr Wiliamson argued that sanctioning Mr Beckwith for consensual sexual activity was an “unforeseeable intrusion into solicitors’ private lives”. 

Read More | Sexual harassment in the City
Read More | Sexual harassment in the City

He said that his client had not breached the professional regulatory principles that apply to solicitors. 

The woman, known as “Person A”, told the hearing last year that on the night in question she was more drunk than she had ever been and that she remembered being in her bedroom naked from the waist down and later woke up to find Mr Beckwith touching her

The tribunal fined Mr Beckwith for breaching his professional duties but did not consider whether the woman consented to the sexual encounter as the legal regulator did not raise this in its case against him.  

It also dismissed allegations that the lawyer had breached his duties by attempting to kiss Person A at another event earlier in 2016. 

Responding to Mr Beckwith’s appeal, lawyers for the Solicitors Regulatory Authority argued that he owed a duty of care towards his junior colleague and that he knew she was highly intoxicated and that her judgment was impaired.