A high-profile solicitor who has spear-headed hundreds of disability discrimination court cases has been fined thousands of pounds after a tribunal found his actions failed to maintain “public trust” in the legal profession.
Chris Fry has for years been one of the only solicitors willing to take cases on behalf of disabled people who have faced discrimination in access to goods and services – particularly during the pandemic – and Disability News Service (DNS) has reported on many of them.
But his failings are believed to have led to the collapse of many other cases that were being taken by disabled people who trusted him to seek justice on their behalf for the discrimination they had experienced.
Fry’s law firm, Fry Law, collapsed two years ago and was placed into administration amid multiple complaints about significant administrative failings.
Following the collapse, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) launched an investigation which ended with Fry facing allegations last week in front of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Four of those seven allegations were found “proven” by the tribunal, which imposed a £9,000 fine, and ordered Fry to pay £35,000 in costs.
The allegations found proven included that he had provided misleading or inaccurate information to an insurance broker; that he wrongly used money from his firm’s clients account to help run Fry Law; and that he breached SRA regulations in the way he ran his firm.
He was found to have acted in a way that failed to uphold public trust and confidence in the legal profession, but he was not found to have breached SRA’s principles on acting with honesty and integrity.
Although he will be able to continue working as a solicitor, the tribunal imposed a three-year restriction order on the management responsibilities he is allowed to carry out.
An SRA spokesperson has so far declined to say if Fry is facing any other ongoing investigations, although he confirmed that SRA closed Fry Law earlier this year and seized its files because of ongoing concerns*.
DNS is aware of a series of cases in which disabled people claim that Fry’s administrative failings have led to the collapse of their discrimination claims.
He has previously admitted administrative problems at Fry Law in the run-up to it being placed into administration, and has told DNS that there were “definitely cases that haven’t been worked on as proactively as I want”.
But he has yet to apologise to the disabled people he has failed, and he has previously attempted to blame others for what happened.
This week, disabled campaigner Doug Paulley, who Fry acted for in the ground-breaking case he took against FirstGroup – which saw the Supreme Court establish a key principle on access to buses for wheelchair-users – said he was “very sad” about what had happened.
He said it was irresponsible of Fry to take on more cases than he could cope with, the result of a system that makes it difficult for solicitors to take on such cases, which left him one of the only lawyers in the country that would consider them.
Paulley said Fry was responsible “for the many tens of disabled people whose cases were not progressed or whose court deadlines were passed, dooming their cases and amplifying the distress of the original discrimination”.
He said: “So many people have been hurt, and I’m so sad, and angry.”
He said Fry could be “amazing” when he was “on form”, as he was with the FirstGroup case and another successful discrimination case he took against York Barbican theatre a decade ago.
But Paulley said that on at least three occasions – across two of his cases – he had experienced serious administrative failings by Fry, while he had also heard from “a very lot of his other clients about how his administrative failures have impacted their cases and them”.
He said the “limited” tribunal case last week did not deal with the most important concerns about Fry’s failings, which were his “repeated letting down of so many disabled people, individually, financially, morally and our collective causes”.
He said Fry’s repeated failings and his refusal to admit those failings and make changes or seek help with the way he ran his business – and then continuing to fail other disabled people – was “irresponsible and caused huge emotional and financial cost to discriminated-against disabled people”.
He said the tribunal case showed the government needed to make changes to ensure the Equality Act was enforceable “in a meaningful way”, but he added: “I’m very sad that Chris Fry has let so many people down, and had such a massive impact on so many disabled people’s money, causes and mental and emotional health.
“No tribunal can ever repair that.”
Rachel George was another of those raising concerns about Fry this week.
Fry acted for her disabled son in two disability discrimination cases and was holding £5,000 of her son’s compensation from one of them. But since the collapse of Fry Law she has been unable to access that money.
Fry’s errors also led to her son being asked to pay the defendant’s £9,000 costs in the other case, because the court had not received an important document from Fry Law. Fry eventually agreed to pay most of the family’s costs, while the rest was met by crowdfunding.
She said: “The outcome of the tribunal does not feel like justice.
“The fine is relatively small, with a relatively short time that he will have limits on the roles he can take on within a firm.
“Whilst disabled people are left worrying as to whether they will get their money back, and feeling let down by their solicitor and by the justice system.
“I’d like the SRA to look into how he handled cases, and where things went wrong due to paperwork not being filed correctly, or things not being actioned within the set time frame.
“Because there are a number of people who feel very let down by his handling of their cases.”
She said she was concerned that Fry would now be able to take on more discrimination cases and would end up letting more disabled people down because of his failure to act professionally.
Fry told DNS in a text message this morning (Thursday) that he was “genuinely very sorry that people have ended up unhappy”, but he appeared to be referring to cases that could not be completed due to the firm collapsing in 2021 rather than as a result of his earlier administrative failings.
He had not commented further by noon today.
*The decision was taken “to protect the interests of clients and former clients of the firm and/or the interests of the beneficiaries of any trust of which the firm is or was a trustee”
Picture: Chris Fry crouching next to Doug Paulley (centre) outside the Supreme Court after the FirstGroup victory
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