Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal).
Hearing 24 September 2018
Reasons 25 September 2018
The SDT gave consent to the applicant to withdraw the allegations made against the respondent in a rule 5 statement dated 22 July 2016.
The matter had most recently been considered by the SDT on 6 July 2018 when it had been informed that settlement discussions were taking place.
On 6 September 2018, the applicant and respondent signed a regulatory settlement agreement. That RSA provided for the respondent to apply to voluntarily remove her name from the roll of solicitors within 28 days of the agreement, or 28 days from the date of being granted leave to withdraw the proceedings, whichever was later.
The respondent undertook not to apply for restoration to the roll for four years from the date of her removal. She also undertook that any application for restoration would be supported by medical evidence from a consultant psychiatrist, confirming her fitness to practise as a solicitor at the time of her application for admission.
The RSA also contained an undertaking from the respondent not to seek or accept employment in legal services for a four-year period, without first disclosing a copy of the RSA to her prospective employer or any other regulator.
In the light of the above RSA, the applicant applied under rule 11(4)(a) of the Solicitors (Disciplinary Proceedings) Rules 2007 for consent to the withdrawal of the allegations. The SDT’s consent was required as a case to answer had been certified.
Hearings 22-23 and 26 November 2018
Reasons 13 December 2018
The SDT ordered that the respondent should pay a fine of £2,500. On 26 May 2017, the respondent had used his Facebook account to publicly post offensive and profane communications towards Mr X in breach of principle 6 of the SRA Principles 2011.
Between 12 July 2015 and 7 December 2016 and on dates unknown, the respondent had used his Twitter account which publicly identified him as a solicitor to publicly post offensive and profane communications in breach of principles 2 and 6.
With respect to the second allegation, the respondent had seen his tweets as defending himself and his system of beliefs. He had made a choice to ‘confront’ those who had subjected him to vile antisemitic abuse.
There was no evidence of harm to those who had been the recipients of the tweets. However, there was a level of indirect harm to the reputation of the profession: anybody who had followed the respondent on Twitter or searched for him on Twitter could see the tweets. The level of harm was reasonably foreseeable as he had decided to use ‘shock tactics’.
Given that and the number of followers he had on Twitter, the tweets were bound to have been seen by a wider audience than the intended recipients, and other individuals who saw the tweets might or might not have seen the tweets to which he was responding and so might have been unaware of the provocation.
The respondent’s culpability was not low; he had made a deliberate decision to tweet in the terms that he had. He had not shown genuine insight: he did not accept that he should not have done what he had done and had only refrained from similar tweets because of the terms of a warning notice. The respondent’s tweets were unacceptable.
In the very specific circumstances of the present case, the SDT did not consider that the protection of the public or the protection of the reputation of the legal profession justified suspension or strike-off. A fine was the appropriate sanction.
In respect of the first allegation, no aggravating features had been identified. The unacceptable posts on Facebook had occurred over a very brief period of time and the respondent had apologised and expressed remorse. Significantly, the post had been made at a time when the respondent was under the influence of very strong medication. The respondent had been open and frank in his admissions and had shown genuine insight. The seriousness of that misconduct was lower than that of the misconduct found proved in respect of the second allegation.
Having regard to the totality of the misconduct, the SDT had decided not to impose an additional sanction in respect of the first allegation. The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £10,000.