Judgement Date: 11 October 2012
Tribunal’s decision to grant 12 month suspension upheld by Administrative Court
In May 2011, the appellant was suspended from legal practice for a period of 12 months, and a recommendation made to the respondent, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), that he should not be employed as a sole practitioner or partner without prior approval from the SRA, for ‘very serious breaches’ of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007. These were:
- Failing to adequately supervise staff;
- Failing to act in the best interests of the firm’s client;
- Providing a misleading statement, and
- Failing to provide material information.
The appellant sought to appeal the Tribunal’s decision, reasoning and sanction on the basis of racial discrimination. The appellant alleged that the Tribunal had discriminated against him on the grounds of his ethnic origin, (he was a Black Asian and Minority Ethnic solicitor) and argued that their decision was manifestly unfair.
Justice Haddon-Cave, on review of the Tribunal’s decision and reasoning, agreed with the findings of the Tribunal on the allegations found proven and concluded that the appellant’s conduct had fallen well below the standards required of a solicitor. It was held that the nature of his failings had caused reputational damage to the profession and risk to others, including clients.
With regard to the sanction, the Court upheld the Tribunal’s decision to impose a 12 month suspension and recommendation, stating that it was appropriate and more than justified in the circumstances. The Court upheld the Tribunal’s reliance on the comments of Sir Thomas Bingham MR in Bolton v The Law Society and their consideration of the appellant’s Article 6 and 8 ECHR rights, when deciding the severity of sanction to be imposed. Indeed Justice Haddon-Cave opined that the Tribunal’s decision was somewhat lenient, given the appellant’s manifest dishonesty with respect to one of the identified failings proved.
This judgement reaffirms the decision of the Court in Salisbury v The Law Society and illustrates the Court’s unwillingness to interfere with a Tribunal’s sentencing decision unless the sanction is clearly inappropriate.