Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED December 10, 2003

The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal was justified in striking the appellant's name from the roll of solicitors since his misconduct over a period of six years painted a picture of a man who was not fit to be a solicitor.Appeal by the claimant ('C') from the decision of Kennedy LJ, dated 12 December 2001, dismissing an appeal from the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal ('SDT') that C be struck off the roll of solicitors. The hearing before the SDT was held in C's absence and all ten of the charges of conduct unbefitting of a solicitor were proved. The allegations against C consisted of charges of, inter alia, failing to comply with a professional obligation to meet debts incurred during the course of a solicitor's practice, failing to comply with directions of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors ('OSS'), and failing to send accounts to the OSS in compliance of s.34 Solicitors Act 1974. On his appeal to the judge from the SDT's decision, C argued that the SDT should have adjourned the fixed hearing and not proceeded in his absence. Further, C argued that the SDT was wrong to have found that the charges against him had been made out. The judge dismissed the appeal and C appealed. On the present appeal, C argued: (i) that it was unfair for the SDT not to have adjourned the disciplinary hearing and to have struck him off the roll of solicitors in his absence; (ii) there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the allegations against him were made out; and (iii) the striking of his name from the roll was disproportionate given that the SDT had not made any findings of dishonesty or untrustworthiness and that the sums involved on the debts were small.HELD: (1) The basis of the decision by the SDT to proceed with the disciplinary hearing in C's absence was that he had been requested to submit medical evidence to support his contention that he was unwell and therefore unable to attend the hearing. Having regard to the history of the proceedings leading up to the disciplinary hearing, the SDT was entitled to proceed on the basis that C's failure to supply the necessary evidence had the hallmarks of someone who was seeking to avoid the hearing. The SDT was entitled to be satisfied that the inability of C to be present was genuine, and that the onus was upon him to prove the need for the adjournment (see Teinaz v Wandsworth London Borough Council (2002) LTL 16/7/2002). C had manifestly failed to satisfy that requirement. (2) There was sufficient evidence before the SDT to reach the conclusion that the substantive allegations against C were made out. He had made a number of undertakings to the creditors and the OSS that payment for the debts incurred during the course of his professional practice were to be made. His conduct in those matters portrayed prevarication in order to avoid the discharge of professional obligations, and his conduct was unbefitting of a solicitor of the highest order. Furthermore, there was a failure by C to comply with the rules concerning the disclosure of accounts. (3) The series of charges of misconduct over a period of six years painted a picture of a man who was not fit to be a solicitor. The SDT was entirely justified in striking C's name from the roll of solicitors.Appeal dismissed.