For any solicitor, an allegation of dishonesty or lack of integrity is the most serious attack possible on his /her professional credibility. Whilst the two allegations may seem indistinguishable, the difference in terms of sanction is significant and can mean the difference between being struck off or receiving a lesser penalty.
The distinction between the two concepts has recently been the subject of a number of decisions. In the case of SRA v Malins, it was held that dishonesty was synonymous with lack of integrity.
In the past, however, the Court has concluded that the SDT would recognise lack of integrity when it sees it and that there is a difference between it and dishonesty. That is clearly not a helpful position for solicitors who are the subject of such a serious allegation and who are concerned that they may not have a professional future.
There is a difference, in our view, between the two concepts and this was confirmed recently by Mrs Justice Carr QC in the case of Williams v SRA.
She confirmed that to be dishonest, a solicitor must have known what he was doing was dishonest and, accordingly, there must be a subjective element to the conduct.
This decision is helpful to any solicitor who is unfortunate enough to find themselves the subject of such serious allegations and provides some guidance on the test to be applied.
It may come as a surprise to the profession that despite the serious nature of these allegations, reputable solicitors do sometimes find themselves the subject of such claims. Many will have read the recent decision in the case of SRA v Mackenzie. This case, in particular, underlines the need to ensure that the SDT is aware of all factors that have influenced the solicitor's conduct and the need, where appropriate, to advance medical evidence in support of the defence.