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A partner who had a sexual encounter with an associate after a night's drinking has had a fine related to the incident overturned.

Court says sexual conduct between partner and associate not unprofessional

It reads more like something from 2005 than 2016, but the drunken events that led to Ryan Beckwith, a former partner in restructuring at law firm Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer having sex with an associate who'd recently left his team, have not been deemed sufficient to uphold the £35k fine and £200k in court costs imposed on him last year.  

In a judgment issued today, the British High Court said it was not accurate that Beckwith had failed to act with integrity, breached accepted standards, or undermined public trust and that the fine and charges should therefore be overturned.

Nonetheless, the details of the case provided in the court document should be sufficient to dissuade anyone from resuming heavy drinking in City bars when the pandemic ends, and to remind everyone that this year's absence of Christmas parties isn't necessarily such a bad thing. 

Beckwith, who was married at the time, turned up at a London pub after work for drinks that were partly to mark the departure of his former associate for another firm. She and a friend/colleague had been drinking since lunchtime, and Beckwith reportedly proceeded to buy 'wine, lager and a round of Jager-bombs,' for the group. 

The evening seems to have descended into drunken chaos, with a colleague taking Beckwith's rucksack back to the office (presumably after thinking he'd left) and Beckwith and the associate spending time looking for the rucksack after allegedly (said Beckwith) kissing intimately in a side room. The two ended up together in a taxi back to the associate's home. Beckwith came in to use the toilet, and events unfolded from there.

The associate had claimed that Beckwith should have known she was heavily intoxicated and that her judgment and decision-making ability were impaired. She claimed that she was more drunk than she'd ever been and that she fell over when she got out of the taxi. Beckwith, however, disputed this and the tribunal could not find proof of the associate being more drunk than ever before.

The case is the latest in a series involving inappropriate and even illegal behaviour between senior male staff and female juniors after evenings of alcohol in London. While Beckwith may have overturned the fine, he has lost his partnership - and, presumably, his marriage. There are advantages to networking at a distance over Zoom.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • An
    Anonymous
    27 November 2020

    What was effectively a £235k fine for consensual sex with a colleague was always going to be hard to justify.

  • An
    Anonymous
    27 November 2020

    It reads like something from 2004, 2006, and, if not for the lockdown, 2020. Colleagues get drunk and sleep together all the time.

  • An
    Anon
    27 November 2020

    The court didn't say that the conduct of the associate or the partner wasn't unprofessional. They didn't give an opinion on whether it was or not and found that the tribunal wasn't authorised to do so either.

  • An
    Anonymous
    27 November 2020

    This judgement didn't find that Ryan Beckwith (or indeed the drunk associate) were unprofessional. Instead it found that the the tribunal over-reached itself in investigating the private lives of individuals. This decision has been a long time coming.

  • An
    Anonymous
    27 November 2020

    I view Beckwith as the victim here.

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