A suspended solicitor who worked abroad for 12 years has failed to persuade a tribunal to let him return to practising in England and Wales.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said George Babalola had failed to show evidence of the qualities and experience needed to practice again in this jurisdiction, but it was not shutting the door on another application in future.
Babalola was described as ‘crassly stupid’ when he was indefinitely suspended in 2005 for making an excessive claim for legal aid costs and disbursements, then making misleading and/or inaccurate representations to investigators.
Babalola returned to Nigeria, where he qualified in 1989, to practise in several firms before running his own firm. He appeared before the tribunal last month with glowing references from, amongst others, the chair of the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, and a job offer at south London firm A2 Solicitors to conduct civil litigation, immigration and defence work.
But the tribunal raised concerns about the nature of some references and how similar they were, and found no supporting evidence he was a reformed character.
The judgment added: ‘Whilst the references showed that there had been no problems with the applicant’s professional conduct since 2005, there was no positive evidence that the misconduct had been discussed and any assessment made that it would not be repeated, or that the applicant was less likely to act in a reckless way.’
The Solicitors Regulation Authority had opposed the application to lift the suspension and said it had not been informed about work Babalola was doing in Nigeria.
The tribunal found Babalola had undertaken a considerable amount of training last summer, mostly through short online courses, but many of these were not relevant to the issues identified in 2005.
Only some of the courses related to the immigration and criminal work he was planning to do, and there was little evidence of training in professional ethics or compliance. While the reference from the Lagos chair of the NBA was ‘glowing’ it did not address the point about how Babalola had reformed or learned from past mistakes.
The tribunal refused to lift the suspension but offered to consider another application if it showed more relevant experience and had evidence Babalola could conduct himself properly as a solicitor. Babalola was ordered to pay £3,000 to cover the costs of the application.