A Grenadian aspiring solicitor has won a legal battle to be recognised as being of 'good character' in the UK despite a 30-year-old murder conviction following a trial widely condemned as flawed.
Selwyn Strachan was sentenced to death by a Grenadian court in 1983 for ordering the killing of Maurice Bishop, the prime minister of Grenada who had seized power in a coup in 1979.
Strachan's term was commuted to a whole-life term of imprisonment and he was released in 2009 after an Amnesty International report that was highly critical of his trial.
Strachan, described by his lawyers as a 'respected and admired member of Grenadian society' has been working towards qualifying as a solicitor in Grenada.
However, his murder conviction, which Grenadian law does not allow him to appeal, prevented him from enrolling in a postgraduate legal practice course in England as required by Grenadian regulations because he did not meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority's 'character and suitability' test.
In an appeal brought by London firm Scott-Moncrieff and Associates, the High Court has ruled against the authority.
Stressing that 'this is a case involving exceptional circumstances', Mr Justice Charles said the SRA had 'erred in principle and acted unfairly' in reaching its decision. The 'fundamental error' was 'a failure to appreciate and take into account that the political background to the convictions and the manner in which they were obtained'.
As Strachan had no intention of practising in England and Wales, the test of his suitability should lie with the Grenadian court 'which would be in a much better position than the SRA' to judge. The SRA's decision-makers had 'lacked humanity having regard to the factual history put before them,' the judge said.
'It seems that it was driven by a bureaucratic process and the view that one process was suitable for all types of case. I express the hope that the SRA review its process in the light if this case to cater for exceptional cases.'
He said that the SRA has 'helpfully and in my view properly' indicated that it would take steps to try to ensure that Strachan could attend and start the LPC.
Gordon Ramsay, the SRA's director of legal, said: 'As the judgment states, this was an exceptional case. We will review the judgement fully and will make any changes necessary to ensure that the decisions we make are fair and continue to protect the public.'
The regulator also said that the requirement for student enrolment before commencing the LPC has now been removed as part of its programme to cut red tape.