A High Court judge has struck off three solicitors after ruling that a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal had been too lenient in punishing the trio.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority had appealed after the SDT had decided to fine Oluseun Ajanaku and Ambrose Emeana and impose a six-month suspension on Stephen Ijewere.
The SDT had found Ajanaku had entered into a sham partnership with Emeana under the firm name Ross Kingsley and Co to allow Emeana to practise.
Ajanaku had also allowed billing intended to cover the firm’s overheads to be described as ‘disbursements’ and ‘sundries’.
Along with Ijewere, Ajanaku was also found to have committed several breaches of solicitor accounts rules under the firm Elliott Stephens & Co.
Ijewere’s firm was found to have benefited from repeated instructions where he had ‘cut corners’ and client accounts appeared to have been in deficit on a number of different occasions.
Lord Justice Moses ruled that each should be struck off the roll after stating that punishment ‘is not reserved for offences of dishonesty’.
He said the SDT’s decision in September 2011 had failed to take account of the gravity of their offences as a whole. Citing Bolton v Law Society, Moses said solicitors should expect to be struck off where there has been ‘a lapse of standards of integrity, probity and trustworthiness’.
In his summary, the judge said: ‘The sanctions I propose in relation to all three of these respondents are the most severe which can be imposed.
‘But I cannot see how the integrity of the profession can be upheld by the imposition of lesser sanctions. I do not believe that the public would find it acceptable that those who have behaved in this way should be allowed to act as solicitors.’
Jennifer Johnson, SRA head of legal and enforcement, said: 'We appealed the sanctions imposed by the SDT as in our view they did not reflect the gravity of the misconduct. We are pleased that this judgment reinforces that the profession requires complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness and that even where the misconduct is less serious than dishonesty, a strike off may still be required to protect the public.
'The judgment also emphasises the importance of solicitors co-operating with us and giving completely frank and honest answers when questioned.'