A solicitor that was suspended indefinitely by the SDT in 2005 has his application to lift suspension refused, despite practising as a lawyer abroad for 12 years.
George Babalola was indefinitely suspended by the SDT in 2005 for making claims for costs which were excessive, claiming disbursements on the basis of invoices bearing false and/or inaccurate signatures and making misleading representations to the Law Society’s investigation officer.
At the time of his suspension in 2005 the SDT described his actions as ‘crassly stupid’ and said that he had a “cavalier approach to his responsibilities as a solicitor”.
After the SDT’s decision in 2005, Babalola returned to Nigeria where he practised in several firms including a firm of his own.
In support of his application, Babalola presented the SDT with several positive references from former colleagues, including the chair of the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Bar Association. He also provided a letter from south London firm A2 Solicitors where he had been offered a role as a solicitor. In addition, the SDT were provided with a list of courses he had undertaken in the summer of 2017 to bring himself up to date with changes in the law.
As set out in the Guidance Note on Other Powers of the Tribunal, in order to accept Babalola’s application, the Tribunal has to be satisfied that lifting the indefinite suspension would not adversely affect the reputation of the profession, nor be contrary to the interests of the public.
The SDT refused to lift Babalola’s suspension. Whist describing Babalola’s oral evidence as “hesitant and guarded, as well as emotional” the SDT found that:
Whilst the references showed that there had been no problems with the applicant’s professional conduct since 2005, there was no positive evidence that the misconduct had been discussed and any assessment made that it would not be repeated, or that the applicant was less likely to act in a reckless way.’
Whilst recognising that Babalola had undertaken a considerable amount of training in 2017, most were not directly relevant to the issues identified in 2005 as they were online courses and he had not been required to read any supporting training materials before receiving a certificate of completion.
Although the SDT refused to lift the suspension and Babalola was ordered to pay the SRA’s costs in opposing the application, the SDT reminded him that he can make another application and provide further evidence to allay the SDT’s concerns about repetition.
When making applications to lift suspensions it is important to ensure that the supporting evidence demonstrates a change in circumstances such that the SDT can be sure that lifting suspension is not adverse to the reputation of the profession or contrary to the public interest. Supporting evidence for lawyers who have undertaken some legal practice should include:
- References that comment on the allegations and how an applicant’s professional practice has evolved and whether conduct is likely to be repeated.
- Bundles that provide supporting evidence in the form of appraisal documents and professional development plans that demonstrate learning.
- Evidence from an application should demonstrate what they have learnt from training courses, to supplement the evidence of training courses attended.
- Letters from potential future employees that provide an outline of supervision and training arrangements and what safeguards are in place to safeguard the firm.