The High Court has made a rare intervention into a tribunal decision, overturning the strike-off of a London solicitor.
Mark Lorrell, admitted in 2003, was banned last year by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after acting for a litigation client and her litigation funder, creating the risk that a conflict of interest could have arisen.
The matter had occurred some six years earlier and had already led to his suspension in 2016 for allowing his firm’s client account to be used as a banking facility.
In Lorrell v Solicitors Regulation Authority, Mr Justice Martin Spencer, sitting in the High Court, agreed the tribunal was right to find misconduct allegations proven. But on the issue of sanction, the judge said Lorrell had not had a chance to learn from the SDT’s earlier finding because the misconduct in question pre-dated these proceedings.
He ruled that Lorrell’s lack of integrity and probity was not at a level to justify striking him off, and his former litigation client had ample time and experience to have raised an objection when she signed the litigation funding agreement. Lorrell's failure to ensure that the client had independent legal advice had caused no harm.
‘There are aspects to the decision of the SDT on sanction which indicate a lack of clarity of thought on their part,’ the judge ruled. ‘The SDT have made a judgment about the seriousness of Lorrell’s misconduct upon a wrong or false basis and that more than justifies interference with, and re-consideration of, the sanction.’
The judge also noted it was ‘unfair’ of the tribunal to suggest Lorrell's robust defence showed a lack of remorse or insight.
Lorrell, who is also a barrister, was found to have accepted instructions from the lender where this was in conflict with the interests of his client.
He appealed the decision on the basis that the SDT made contradictory findings, made an error of law and ignored evidence in writing that the client had been advised to take independent legal advice. These grounds were all rejected by the judge.
The strike-off was reduced to a two-year suspension, of which Lorrell has already served 10 months. The tribunal’s £35,700 costs order will remain.