Law Society (SRA) v Emeana, Ijewere, Ajanaku [2013] EWHC 2130 (Admin)

The Administrative Court has overturned unduly lenient sentences imposed on three solicitors by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, substituting orders striking off the solicitors concerned for fines and a suspension. The SRA had appealed the sentences imposed on the three solicitors A, E and J, who between them had been involved in five different sets of disciplinary proceedings (four of which had been heard consecutively in September 2011).

A had been found (among other things) to have entered into a sham partnership for the purpose of enabling another respondent, E, to practise as a sole principal when he was not qualified to do so, and of providing false information to the SRA during its investigation into these matters. A was additionally found to have (i) permitted misleading billing practices, (ii) breached the Solicitors Introduction and Referral Code 1990, (iii) breached the Solicitors Accounts Rules in various material respects, and (iv) been involved in transactions which bore the hallmarks of mortgage fraud. He was fined £28,000 in total.

In addition to being in a sham partnership with A, E was found guilty of various other breaches, including failure to honour undertakings, the use of clients' funds of £6,000 for his own benefit, the failure to supervise an unadmitted fee earner and failure to disclose material information to lender clients. He was fined £35,000 in total.

J was found guilty of, amongst other things, having (i) permitted misleading billing practices, (ii) breached the Solicitors Introduction and Referral Code 1990, (iii) breached the Solicitors Accounts Rules in various material respects, and (iv) breached undertakings and provided inaccurate information to the SRA in that respect. He was also found to have practised as a sole practitioner in breach of a condition on his Practising Certificate, and to have used headed notepaper which referred to individuals as partners in the firm when they were no longer partners. J was suspended for six months.

In respect of A, the court found that he was guilty of 'persistently flouting the rules' and that when sentencing him the tribunal had 'lost sight of the gravity of [A's] professional misconduct as a whole' and 'failed to appreciate the damage to the profession if [A] was allowed to continue having shown so serious a disregard for the rules'.

The court found that E also 'shows no appreciation whatever for the demands of the profession… [and] no understanding of the standards of integrity and trustworthiness'. In the circumstances, the profession could only be protected by striking him off.

In relation to J, the court stated 'it does not seem to me possible merely to impose a fine in the case of a solicitor who has breached professional undertakings, given misleading information as to the existence of partners, failed to rectify debit balances shown on client account, and been involved in transactions with the hallmarks of fraud'.