Judgment date: 28 June 2013

Solicitor struck off for disgraceful conduct unconnected to professional duties

M, a solicitor, was struck off the Roll of Solicitors by the Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal (the Tribunal) following a finding that he was guilty of disgraceful conduct.

In 2006, M was declared bankrupt and the Official Receiver took control of his assets. M had a reversionary interest in a property that he had not declared to the Official Receiver. In 2010, P, the purchasers, made an offer to buy M’s interest in that property and M was subsequently paid by way of a transfer. M then used that money to pay off existing debts. However, when P came to register the property in their name at the Land Registry, they found that the Official Receiver had entered a restriction against the property. M did not reimburse P or the Official Receiver.

The Tribunal found the following allegations proved against M:

  1. failure to disclose his reversionary interest to the Official Receiver;
  2. that he had held himself out as capable of transferring the interest;
  3. failure to return the money;
  4. that he had acted in a way likely to diminish public trust in the profession.

In reaching their finding of disgraceful conduct, the Tribunal felt that M had demonstrated a serious lack of integrity.

M appealed the sanction of erasure on the basis that the punishment was too severe; insufficient weight was placed on his personal and professional circumstances and the potential sanction should have been indicated by the Tribunal.

The appeal was dismissed. The Administrative Court stated that there was no presumption that the sanction of striking off was only appropriate for allegations of dishonesty, criminal offences or exceptional circumstances. The Court reasoned, following Bolton v Law Society [1994] 1 W.L.R. 512, that where the conduct demonstrated a lack of integrity or undermined public confidence in the profession, striking off a solicitor may still be appropriate, even when that conduct is not connected to professional duties.

The Court concluded that M’s personal mitigation was secondary to the Tribunal’s primary concern, which was to uphold public confidence in the profession. M had attended the hearing and despite being unrepresented, had the opportunity to ask questions, which was considered sufficient to ensure fairness in the proceedings.The Court also asserted that there was no rule obliging the Tribunal to provide an indication to either party about the potential sanction to be imposed.

The full transcript is awaited in this case, but it seems to affirming the Bolton principle regarding sanctions for dishonesty, confirming that the dishonest conduct does not have to be in the course of professional duties to be such as to undermine public confidence.