A struck-off solicitor who claimed to have been subject to a ‘show trial’ which went ahead in his absence has failed in a bid to overturn the sanction.
Ashok Sancheti was banned from the profession in April 2014 after the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found nine allegations – including four of dishonesty – proven against him. He had not appeared at the hearing after refusing the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s offer to pay for his travel, complaining that the plane ticket was for standard class.
The SRA had also booked him a hotel and offered to pay money into his account to cover subsistence while attending the hearing.
Sancheti, a member and director of closed London firm Morgan Walker LLP, kept £63,000 that had been held in the client account and refused a court order to hand the money back. The SDT also found he kept no relevant accounting records at the time the SRA intervened into the firm.
Sancheti brought his appeal to the High Court in November and made a string of allegations against both the regulator and the tribunal.
He called the strike-off decision ‘perverse and arbitrary’ and said the members of the tribunal were not independent as they were solicitors who were members of the Law Society and therefore linked to the SRA.
He claimed the objective of the tribunal was to ‘intentionally harass’ him and that the hearings were rushed through to ensure he could not defend himself.
Sancheti, who lives in India, had not been present during the three-day tribunal hearing and said he was denied a fair trial.
But in a judgment handed down today, High Court judge Mr Justice Holroyde said there was no evidence that any bias existed on the part of the SRA or tribunal.
In terms of solicitors on the panel, Sancheti had put forward nothing to suggest the standard approach was not followed and no convincing reason to make his case exceptional.
He failed to provide any evidence to support allegations of bias, beyond the fact the SDT’s decisions had been adverse to him.
‘The proposition that the SDT must be biased against him simply because some of its members practise, or have practised, as solicitors, is untenable,’ said Holroyde. ‘So too is the proposition that the SDT must be biased in favour of the SRA simply because they are "all members of the same club".’
The court heard that the SRA had even bought flights from India and arranged accommodation during the hearing to ensure Sancheti could attend in person.
He had refused to attend because the proceedings would not be fair and also as the plane tickets provided were not suitable because they were standard-class seats on an airline he did not favour. The SDT had found the explanation for his absence to be untrue.
Holroyde added: ‘The SDT was plainly entitled to conclude that Mr Sancheti’s absence was voluntary and that the hearing could proceed.’
His appeal was dismissed and Sancheti was ordered to pay the £45,000 costs of the hearing.