A nervous disposition
The appellant solicitor, Mr Levy, appealed the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to suspend him for nine months and impose a £26,000 fine. The original allegations related to the appellant’s breach of the Solicitor Account Rules (SAR) and failing to comply with conditions imposed on his practicing certificate, which the appellant accepted, but in relation to which he denied dishonesty (which was not subsequently found by the SDT).
Mr Levy based his appeal on the failure of the tribunal to foreshadow the penalty it was contemplating. It was submitted that the appropriate representations could not therefore be made, nor did the tribunal invite such representations.
The court concluded that even when dishonesty was not a factor, the tribunal was entitled to impose a suspension of nine months. The court noted that the protection of client money is sacrosanct and as such the court will give considerable deference to the decision of the first instance tribunal when maintaining the high standards and reputation of the profession.
The court drew an analogy with criminal proceeding in cases involving Newton hearings. The court agreed that it is imperative the tribunal does not proceed to sanctioning before having decided upon and announced the basis of its findings on the substantive allegations. The court concluded that there is no requirement to foreshadow the specific sanction contemplated when it should be within the contemplation of the party given the nature and context of the breaches committed.
As the tribunal heard evidence in relation to the allegations and retired to consider its decision, this amounted to the resolution in a procedurally fair manner of the key issues affecting sentencing. The court also concluded that the mitigation already before the tribunal was sufficient when deciding on sanction, and suspension was in the contemplation of all parties.
For those representing registrants, this case highlights the need to make full representations as to sanction whether or not strike-out has been expressly contemplated by the Panel.
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