The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal failed to take account of Alan Blacker’s disability when going ahead with proceedings that would end his career as a solicitor, a court has heard.
Blacker took his appeal against the tribunal ruling from last July to the administrative court today, setting out why he claims he was unfairly treated.
His counsel, Anton van Dellen, said the tribunal had gone beyond the scope of judicial discretion to override the Equality Act, and had wrongly elected to proceed with the two-day hearing in Blacker’s absence.
The solicitor-advocate, once described as looking like 'something out of Harry Potter' by a trial judge, also appealed the £86,000 prosecution costs order made against him, saying the reasoning behind the figure had been ‘woeful’.
The proceedings today began with a failed attempt to conduct parts of the hearing, dealing with Blacker’s medical issues, in private.
Once the appeal itself got underway, van Dellen, working pro bono on Blacker’s instructions, argued the tribunal had failed to take account of his client’s disability when deciding not to relocate proceedings to Manchester.
Blacker had requested the move after saying his life would be in jeopardy if he was forced to travel to London. He did not attend today’s proceedings.
Van Dellen said the tribunal should not have considered the case exempt from disability discrimination legislation.
‘It is very tempting to dive into the medical evidence and say it doesn’t meet the cut-off and the Equality Act doesn’t apply,’ he said. ‘But has the tribunal turned its mind at all to the nature of the disability? That is effectively the approach the SDT has taken, to say "the judicial exemption applies to us and we don’t need to make any adjustments".’
Van Dellen said it was important the tribunal was seen to be fair and the perception would be it acted unreasonably when it disregarded requests to move the hearing.
The barrister also appealed against costs; both the £86,000 figure for the main hearing and a further £7,500 imposed following an application for a re-hearing.
‘Where someone is losing their livelihood the SDT should be very slow to impose very onerous costs burdens,’ said van Dellen. ‘There is clearly a public interest amongst solicitors and all members of the public as to the level of costs being enforced by the SRA: this is not a commercial private party, it is effectively a regulator funded by the solicitors themselves – a significant number of whom are not paid large sums of money.
‘Solicitors must wonder particularly how money they are paying is being spent and how carefully. It is a matter of real concern for regulators as to the level of costs for a two-day hearing being £86,000.’
The case continues this afternoon, with a ruling expected today.