Iqbal v Solicitors Regulation Authority

[2012] EWHC 3251 (Admin)

The High Court confirms that a solicitor can be struck off on grounds of incompetence.

A solicitor, Mr Iqbal, had been struck off after facing allegations including (1) conduct in holding out on three separate occasions people as partners of his firm, and (2) breaches of the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal stated that it did not find proved an allegation of dishonesty made against Mr Iqbal. The Tribunal nevertheless concluded that Mr Iqbal should be struck off in fulfilment of the Tribunal’s duty to protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession.

Mr Iqbal appealed. It was submitted on his behalf that, despite the Tribunal’s assertion that it had not found the allegation of dishonesty proved, it had found that Mr Iqbal had made statements which ‘had sought to mislead’ in relation to the status of other people being partners in his firm. It was submitted that, in making the order to strike off Mr Iqubal the Tribunal had, in fact, based its sanction on a finding of dishonesty.

The court accepted that it was right to consider again the sanction imposed on Mr Iqbal on the basis that no dishonesty was found.

The court held that although there had been no dishonesty, the behaviour of Mr Iqbal in relation to the holding out ‘exhibited manifest incompetence’. The trustworthiness expected of solicitors extended not only to honesty, but also to competence. It was stated that ‘it is impossible to see how the public can have confidence in a person who has exhibited such incompetence’. In these circumstances, even absent dishonesty, the only appropriate action was to strike the solicitor off the roll.

Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.

It was added, obiter, that the Tribunal should consider its practice of not taking into account in reaching its conclusions any failure of the respondent solicitor to give evidence. The court stated that not to take this into account was at variance with the practice of the civil and criminal courts and with the public expectation that a professional person should give an account of his actions.