Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)
Hearing 4 March 2021
Reasons 31 March 2021
The SDT ordered that the appellant’s appeal under section 44(E) of the Solicitors Act 1974 (as amended) should be allowed in part. The SDT ordered that the adjudicator’s decision with respect to her finding that the appellant had breached principle 6 of the SRA’s Principles 2011 and the financial penalty of £2,000 should be hereby revoked with immediate effect. The SDT substituted a financial penalty of £660, and affirmed the remainder of the adjudicator’s decision dated 28 August 2020 (including the decision on costs).
The adjudicator’s decision of 28 August 2020 was (i) that the appellant’s conduct was in breach of principle 6 because he had been convicted by magistrates on 25 November 2015 of driving with excess alcohol (for which he had been, inter alia, fined £1,500); and (ii) that he had failed to achieve outcome 10.3 of the SRA Code of Conduct and had breached principle 7 by failing promptly to inform the SRA of his conviction or when he had renewed his practising certificate.
The adjudicator ordered publication of that decision and directed that the appellant pay a financial penalty of £2,000 and costs of £600, and that those directions be published.
The appellant had not notified the SRA promptly of the conviction. He went to live abroad in January 2016 and returned to the UK in February 2018.
He applied to renew his practising certificate, but did not disclose his conviction or fine, and was granted a practising certificate free from conditions.
In January 2019, the respondent wrote to the appellant seeking his explanation for the non-disclosure by way of an explanation with warning letter. He responded, stating that he considered the conviction to have been spent.
On 3 February 2020, an investigation officer provided the appellant with a notice and bundle. A supervision report was prepared. The appellant’s legal representative responded to the supervision report, to the effect that he had been diagnosed with certain debilitating health issues, since when he had not practised as a solicitor in England and Wales.
While subsequently making applications for car insurance, he had realised that his conviction still had implications and wondered if it might have regulatory implications. He had immediately contacted the SRA.
In August 2020, the matter was considered by an adjudicator, and the appellant appealed against her decision.
The SDT considered on the balance of probabilities that the adjudicator’s approach to determining whether there had been a breach of principle 6 had been wrong and it quashed that aspect of the decision.
It upheld the adjudicator’s decision with respect to the failure to report the conviction (allegation 2) (i.e. breach of principle 7 and failure to achieve outcome 10.3) and the costs of £600.
While the SDT did not consider £2,000 to be a disproportionate or unreasonable fine, on the basis of its finding with respect to the principle 6 breach, it substituted a financial penalty of £660 which it considered sufficient to mark the seriousness of the adjudicator’s findings with respect to her decision in allegation 2.
There was no order for costs.
Mark Stephen Francis McDonald
Hearing 25-28 January 2021
Reasons 12 April 2021
The SDT ordered that the respondent should pay a fine of £10,000.
He had failed adequately or at all to update or advise clients C and W or to respond to requests for information, thereby breaching principles 4, 5 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011, and failing to achieve outcomes 1.1 and 1.5 under the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.
He had failed adequately to comply with a production notice raised by the SRA under section 44B of the Solicitors Act 1974 on or about 24 November 2016, thereby breaching principle 7, and failing to achieve outcomes 10.6, 10.8 and 10.9.
In an email to an officer of the SRA, he had made the following statement, which was untrue and/or misleading: ‘Neither I nor any firm I have worked with has made any payment to my knowledge to Redrock Commercial Finance’, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6.
The respondent was not motivated to commit misconduct. His misconduct had arisen as a failure by him to have due regard to his obligations to his clients and to his regulator. His actions were not planned. While he had misled the regulator, he had not done so deliberately.
He had caused harm to his clients, and in doing so he had also caused harm to the reputation of the profession. His misconduct had been, however, of relatively brief duration in a previously unblemished career.
A financial penalty was a proportionate and appropriate sanction in all the circumstances. A fine of £15,000 adequately reflected the seriousness of the respondent’s misconduct, but there should be a reduction in the fine to take account of his limited means. Those limited means would be adequately reflected by a reduction to £10,000.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £25,000.