Schools v Solicitor Regulation Authority [2015] EWHC 872 (Admin)

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The appellant solicitor appealed against the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (the SDT), finding a number of allegations against him proved and ordering that he should be struck off the roll of solicitors.

The Administrative Court, in dismissing the appeal, held that, in refusing to adjourn the proceedings and proceeding in the appellant's absence, the SDT had wrongly rejected medical evidence on the basis that it had not been a reasoned opinion which had answered all relevant questions. However, the evidence had justified the SDT having taken the view that the appellant had decided that he would only attend on his own terms, namely, when he could instruct lawyers to represent him.

Facts

In January 2010, the respondent Solicitors Regulation Authority started an investigation concerning the appellant solicitor. The substantive hearing of the allegations against the appellant was listed for 12 May 2014. In April, the appellant applied for an adjournment on the basis of his mental state, which was refused. On 2 May, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (the SDT) again refused to adjourn the hearing, as: (i) it was not convinced that a deep vein thrombosis diagnosis, made on 29 April, had been genuine or had restricted travel so that the appellant could not attend the hearing; (ii) there was no psychiatric reason why the hearing could not go ahead; and (iii) the appellant had been voluntarily absenting himself. Two further applications for adjournment were also refused and the SDT proceeded in the appellant's absence. In June 2014, the SDT found a number of allegations against the appellant proved, and ordered that he should be struck off the roll of solicitors and that he should pay the costs of and incidental to the application and enquiry. The appellant appealed, under s 49 of the Solicitors Act 1974.

The appellant's original ground of appeal was that the SDT had proceeded in the hearing, which had resulted in the order, in his absence and had wrongly refused the three applications for adjournment on the grounds that he had been unable to afford representation and because his health meant that he could not attend the hearing. On the day before the hearing, the appellant sought to extend the scope of the appeal by appealing the decisions on misconduct, sanction and costs, which would require an adjournment of the appeal.

Judgment

The appeal would be dismissed.

There would be no adjournment so that the appellant could formulate some new grounds to criticise the findings of misconduct, sanctions and the costs order. It was far too late and the appellant's procedural failures were part of a pattern evidenced by the history of the proceedings. He had failed to identify any arguable basis for his entirely new appeal, which he had had months to set out. It was not acceptable or in accordance with the overriding objective to suggest immediately before and during a substantive hearing that there were wholly new grounds which required an adjournment.

With respect to the SDT's failure to adjourn on 2 May 2014, the decision, on its own, could not stand. The SDT had wrongly rejected the medical evidence it had had on the basis that it had not been a reasoned opinion which had answered all relevant questions. The best course had been to leave the case on the list and to direct the appellant to produce better medical evidence so that he could renew his application on 12 May if he had wished to. However, the decision had been right, although the basis for it had been wrong. There had been a track record of attempts to avoid the hearing taking place in May and the evidence had justified the SDT having taken the view that the appellant had decided that he would only attend on his own terms, namely, when he could instruct lawyers to represent him. It followed that he had formed an intention, probably by early April, when he had first applied for an adjournment on the baseless ground of his mental state. Further, the present case was not one where the appellant's lack of funds was temporary and they would become available within a certain time to enable him to afford legal representation, such that it was in the interests of justice to adjourn.

Accordingly, on 12 May 2014, the SDT had exercised its discretion properly, on the material available to it, in refusing to adjourn the hearing (see [33], [34], [36], [37], [40] of the judgment).

Case Summary reproduced with the kind permission of LexisNexis.

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