A would-be solicitor has been granted a fresh hearing into her suitability to enter the profession after being denied the chance to explain herself in person.
Rizwana Yussouf’s application for admission as a solicitor was dismissed by an SRA adjudicator in February 2017 after she was found to have acted dishonestly when making her first application three years earlier.
The regulator said that Yussouf, now in her mid-50s, had been dishonest by failing to disclose a 2009 county court judgment issued against her and subsequently providing misleading information about her knowledge of it.
Yussouf was granted student enrolment in 2004 and then took a post-graduate law conversion course before studying for the LPC. She began a full-time training contract in 2010 with a south London firm that ended in 2012 and has subsequently been employed as a legal assistant with a local authority.
Yussouf argued before the High Court thata she believed the judgment did not have to be disclosed as it had been discharged and that she had read the questions too quickly on her application. She asked for the chance to state her case in an oral application, which had not been permitted by the SRA adjudicator.
Her lawyers argued it would be ‘unthinkable’ for the SRA or Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to make a finding of dishonesty against a practising solicitor without an oral hearing. It was ‘all too easy’ to detect dishonesty from documents, but an oral hearing would enable the decision-maker to see and judge and question the individual.
In Yussouf v The Solicitors Regulation Authority, Mr John Howell QC, sitting as a deputy high court judge, said the adjudication panel made no material error of law in determining whether Yussouf’s conduct in failing to disclose the 2009 judgment was dishonest.
But he said the crucial question was whether the adjudication panel could fairly draw the inferences they did against her without giving her the opportunity to respond to them.
Having ‘wavered’ and ruling ‘with some considerable hesitation’, he concluded they could not have drawn such inferences without cross-examining her. Despite the apparent cumulative impact of all matters relied on by the adjudication panel that appeared to suggest there was an ‘overwhelming’ case against Yussouf, Howell said it was ‘unfair’ for her to be denied the chance to explain each issue.
He added: ‘The questions whether the SRA is satisfied that Ms Yussouf has the character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor, whether her application for admission should be refused and whether her student enrolment should be cancelled are remitted to the adjudication panel of the SRA for them to reconsider in the light of this judgment.’