Obi v Solicitors Regulation Authority [2013] All ER (D) 271 (Nov)

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The appellant solicitor was charged with: (i) setting up and/or being involved in a solicitors' firm in circumstances in which he had known or ought to have known had been improper and/or unprofessional; (ii) falsely witnessing a mortgage deed and falsely stating that he had been a solicitor with a current practising certificate; and (iii) misrepresenting to the Law Society his involvement in the practice of the solicitors' firm.

The appellant admitted the charges and, in March 2013, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (the tribunal) made an order striking him off the roll of solicitors. The appellant appealed against that decision on the basis that it was disproportionate.

It fell to be determined whether the tribunal had erred in striking off the appellant.

The appeal would be dismissed.

It was settled law that the tribunal comprised an expert and informed tribunal, which was particularly well placed, in any case, to assess what measures were required to deal with defaulting solicitors and to protect the public interest.

Absent any error of law, the High Court had to pay considerable respect to the sentencing decisions of the tribunal. Further, an appellate court should not interfere with the trial judge's conclusion on proportionality in such a case, unless it decided that the conclusion had been wrong.

A decision would not be wrong simply because the appeal court might, had it been sitting at first instance, have awarded a different sentence. There would be a number of cases where an appellate court might think that there was no right answer, in the sense that reasonable judges could differ in their conclusions.

In such cases, any appeal had to be dismissed (see [4], [6], [8] of the judgment).

The potential damage that could be caused by falsely masquerading as a solicitor was incalculable. The potential damage to the reputation of the profession by such conduct was huge.

The tribunal had formed the view, exercising its specialist skills and acting as it had to as specialist guardians of the reputation of the profession that given the scale of the misconduct, nothing short of expulsion from the profession would suffice as an appropriate penalty. That had been a decision that the tribunal had plainly been entitled to reach. It had not been a wrong decision (see [35], [36] of the judgment).

Reproduced with kind permission of LexisLibrary.