A struck-off solicitor has told the High Court the decision to ban her was ‘perverse’ and the basis for it ‘incredible’.
Vidal Martin today challenged the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s finding that she had procured a cheque for £4,700 from an estate beneficiary and made it payable to herself. Martin, who practised at Essex firm Bright and Sons, was found dishonest and ordered to pay £47,000 costs after a two-week hearing in November 2019.
The court heard submissions from Martin’s counsel Nicola Newbegin that the tribunal overlooked doubts about the credibility of crucial evidence from Ms X, who was alleged to have been asked by Martin to write the cheque.
Newbegin said Ms X could remember almost nothing about other events in 2011, when the alleged misconduct happened, telling the court: ‘It is not credible for her to then claim to have a clear memory of being asked to write out the cheque’.
She added: ‘When one looks at the approach the tribunal took, they failed to take proper account of the evidence they were presented with – in particular in effect finding [Ms X] to be unreliable except for the one that mattered. This is a case where the findings are so clearly wrong based on what was in front of the tribunal.’
Newbegin said even the SRA investigator had raised concerns about Ms X’s evidence, and the tribunal itself had accepted from two solicitors that she was unreliable. The court heard Ms X had been prepared to sign her witness statement without reading it, which Newbegin said called into question her attitude to giving evidence. The court also heard that Ms X had made comments with ‘unacceptable racial undertones’ about Martin, a black woman, which again indicated her lack of reliability.
Newbegin said the court could find ‘so many other explanations’ for the cheque being written and that there had been miscommunication somewhere along the line which resulted in Martin not knowing anything about it until six years later. The court also heard that Martin was a solicitor with an ‘impeccable record’ who would not have sacrificed her professional career for a cheque of relatively low value which would be easily traceable to her.
For the SRA Giles Wheeler QC said Martin was attempting to re-run the tribunal hearing, and that it was not open to her to simply say the tribunal’s decision was wrong without identifying an argument to back that up.
Wheeler said the court was being invited to reach a conclusion on a very limited review of the case without reference to the wider issues discussed before the tribunal. He pointed out the tribunal heard the evidence in full and had a 'substantial advantage' in assessing Martin’s conduct over the court.
He submitted it was known that the cheque was paid into Martin’s bank account and that she went on a 'spending spree' in the subsequent weeks with a 'significant' level of cash withdrawls. Wheeler added: 'Miss Martin came out with a variety of different inconsistent explanations for how the cheque came to be paid into her account… her evidence was evolving and changing over time and it was right the tribunal regarded it as unreliable.'
Judgment was reserved.