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Sub-Committees

Report of the Professional Matters Sub-Committee of Westminster and Holborn Law Society

W

e continue to consider consultations from the Legal Services Board (LSB), Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and others together with related issues.

We continue to consider consultations from the Legal Services Board (LSB), Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and others together with related issues.

• We responded to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) “Consultation on the Making of Procedural Rules in Relation to Applications to the Tribunal”. The principal issue was whether to move from the current criminal standard of proof to the civil standard at hearings before the SDT. We took the view that the case for the move was not made out and that no evidence had been provided that the application of the criminal standard had in practice caused any real difficulties to the SRA in prosecuting rogue solicitors. The application of the civil standard would also cut both ways in that it would mean that matters put in defence (e.g. medical evidence) would also have to be judged on the civil standard, which might result in respondent solicitors having their defences accepted more readily than at present. Our response emphasised two points: (1) it was the SRA which was in the front line of protection of the public, not the SDT, and (2) the solicitors’ profession was the only one which made a finding of any form of dishonesty an absolute bar to re-admission to the profession. That may be appropriate where the dishonesty is for personal gain. It is arguable that it is less so where for instance the dishonesty is essentially a misjudgement by an inexperienced solicitor which is unlikely to be repeated. • The unrelenting approach taken by the SRA on this latter issue can be shown by two recent cases:1. Sovani James was an employee of a firm which had been instructed in a

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claim over treatment at an NHS trust. She had conduct of the case from May 2012 until she left the firm. She was suffering from anxiety and stress largely caused by the appalling conditions in which she had worked at the particular firm. She failed to serve particulars of claims, schedule of loss and a medical report by a July 2013 deadline, then made a series of misleading statements on nine occasions to the client and firm. After offering her resignation in November 2014 she created four letters which she backdated to September to give the impression work on the file was progressing. The SDT showed some mercy and opted against striking her off, concluding that her primary motivation was ‘fear’ of the consequences from the firm’s management of the discovery of her wrongdoing. The firm at which she worked was a ‘challenging place’ to work, passing pressure on to junior staff with monthly publication of league table to create competition between feeearners. One email sent from the senior partner to James in April 2013 said she would be required to work evenings, weekends and bank holidays to make up a shortfall in chargeable hours. The SRA appealed the SDT’s decision, and the High Court struck her off. In his judgment in November 2018, Lord Justice Flaux ruled that a ‘toxic and uncaring’ culture in the firm was an explanation for her dishonesty - but not an excuse. It could not amount to exceptional circumstances justifying a lesser sanction than a strike-off. Few would fail to have some sympathy for Ms James, and many will prefer the approach of the SDT to that of the SRA and Court and question why the SRA thought it necessary to appeal the SDT’s decision. As John Hyde wrote in the Law Society Gazette: “The SRA regulates in

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Central London Lawyer May 2019  

The Official Law Journal for the City of Westminster Law Society. Featuring the latest news and features on International events, property a...

Central London Lawyer May 2019  

The Official Law Journal for the City of Westminster Law Society. Featuring the latest news and features on International events, property a...

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