A solicitor struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has lost a High Court challenge to the tribunal’s finding that he acted without integrity.
Robert Stuart Franklin Scott, who was a member of Key 2 Law LLP, came before the tribunal in June 2014 in relation to five allegations centring on three issues: his failure to cooperate with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, his breaches of Solicitors Accounts Rules and conduct obligations, and his failure properly to manage the affairs of the firm.
The High Court’s judgment, Robert Stuart Franklin Scott v Solicitors Regulation Authority, states that shortly before the hearing, Scott admitted some, but not all, of the matters against him. Scott, who was admitted to the roll in 1992, denied that he acted dishonestly as alleged or at all, or that he had acted without integrity.
The tribunal found that Scott’s conduct was objectively dishonest, but that the subjective requirement for dishonesty was not met. The tribunal concluded that his conduct lacked integrity because, in summary, he showed no regard at all for his obligation to protect client money and assets.
Handing down judgment in the High Court on Friday, Lady Justice Sharp said the fact Scott was found not to have been dishonest ‘plainly did not mean that it was not open to the SDT to conclude that he lacked integrity’.
Sharp said the tribunal ‘clearly considered the matter “in the round” as they were entitled to’.
She added: ‘On the facts, including the admitted or proven breaches which involved culpability and a consideration of what was in the appellant’s mind at the time, it seems to me that the SDT’s findings of recklessness and lack of integrity were not only justified but inevitable.’
Sharp did not consider that the tribunal’s conclusion on sanction could be faulted, and dismissed the appeal.
Mr Justice Holroyde agreed with what Sharp had to say about the merits and the sanction.
He added that dishonesty and a lack of integrity were ‘not synonymous terms’, highlighting the point with a hypothetical example of a solicitor who repeatedly takes monies from a client account, uses them from time to time for his own purposes, and from time to time makes good the deficiency when he finds it convenient to do so.
A spokesperson for the SRA said the regulator was pleased with the judgment. ‘It confirms our view that a person can lack integrity without being dishonest. It also confirms that where this is the case, the most serious sanction of striking off may well be appropriate to protect the public interest,’ the spokesperson added.
Barrister Rory Dunlop, of 39 Essex Chambers, said the court’s judgment gave some guidance on what principle 2 of the SRA Principles 2011 requires.
Dunlop said: ‘It can be no defence, to a charge of failing to act with integrity, that the solicitor did not realise the client account rules were being broken because he failed to think about it. It will be interesting to see whether the SDT treats other forms of reckless rule-breaking as failures to act with integrity.’