The High Court has ordered a rehearing after a man with a long history of mental illness was found to be dishonest without the chance to defend himself.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal had found all allegations of dishonesty against Francisco Rodriguez-Purcet proven in his absence at a hearing in March this year. The findings resulted in him being made subject to a section 43 order and effectively banned from working in the legal profession.
The respondent, former head marketing and business development at now-defunct firm Tandem Law, denied dishonesty and had applied for an adjournment through his solicitor, but the hearing was put back only by a day. This was despite Rodriguez-Purcet presenting a medical report confirming a long history of mental ill health, with current symptoms of moderately severe depression and severe anxiety.
Ruling on his appeal in the High Court, Mr Justice Holman said the tribunal’s decision to refuse a longer adjournment was ‘unjust’ and ‘wrong’.
The judge added: ‘They had medical evidence from a sufficiently qualified practitioner who had very recently examined the appellant. That evidence was clearly describing a significantly worsening situation in his very long diagnosed mental ill health. It clearly describes that his ability to participate properly in the hearing was impacted and impaired.’
Holman J stated that Rodriguez-Purcet’s assessment, submitted the week before the hearing, showed that having to participate properly in any hearing might trigger a relapse, with clear advice to the tribunal to wait for a full analysis of his condition.
The court heard that the tribunal had made a further 'glaring omission’ in its reasoning, namely relying on an SRA expert who said Rodriguez-Purcet could appear at the hearing on the basis that he was working at the time. This assumption, it transpired, was mistaken, as he had been off work for at least a month.
The hearing proceeded without Rodriguez-Purcet, who is based in Lancaster, after the SRA calculated he could have caught the early train to arrive at the London venue by 11am.
Even bearing in mind the judge’s conclusion on the adjournment, the SRA continued to argue that the dishonesty finding should stand on the basis this outcome was ‘inevitable’ and ‘so open and shut’, with any further hearing a waste of time and money.
But the judge insisted Rodriguez-Purcet should be able to defend such a serious allegation, and the only correct and fair decision was to set aside the whole of the section 43 and order a new hearing.