In the Media

High Court dismisses appeal against SDT fine

PUBLISHED July 11, 2014

A former sole practitioner who refused to pay court costs has failed in an appeal against a subsequent fine from the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Geoffrey Sinclair Blakey, who practised in Nottingham under the name 'Sinclairs Solicitors', had appealed an SDT ruling from last year that he breached two Solicitors Regulation Authority principles.

But Mr Justice Foskett dismissed his appeal in the High Court following a one-day hearing in June and warned him against pursuing any further court action.

Blakey had failed to comply with a court order in 2009 to pay £8,000 for a wasted costs application to another solicitor's firm after it had acted in a dispute over a trust fund.

Blakey was given until February 2010 to pay the sum, but proceeded to mount a series of legal challenges until a court order in 2012 that his appeal rights had become 'exhausted'.

Even though, subject to an excess of £1,000, the solicitor's insurers would have been prepared to pay the costs order, Blakey chose not to pay so that he would be made bankrupt.

His rationale, Foskett summarised, was that it was the only way in which he could secure evidence to support his assertions of dishonesty. Foskett said Blakey took this measure to protect his client's interests and to 'rescue his own professional status from what he considered to have been an unjust order'.

The SDT later held that Blakey held a 'misguided albeit genuine belief' that he acted in his client's best interests.

But his failure to pay the order led to the owed solicitor's firm reporting him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and he was subject to an investigation - the costs of which (£600) he also refused to pay.

He was brought before the SDT for acting contrary to principles six and seven of the SRA's Principles, which require a solicitor to behave in a way that maintains public trust in the profession and to comply with legal and regulatory obligations.

The SDT found against him and imposed a fine of £2,000 and an order to pay £4,250 in costs.

In considering the appeal against these orders, Foskitt said Blakey had a perception that 'fraud unravels everything' and that his evidence would render the wasted costs order invalid. But the judge said unless his allegations of fraud could be set aside they remain valid and enforceable.

Foskett added: 'His appeal against the fine was, in essence, an appeal against the finding giving rise to it. If and to the extent that it amounted to an independent challenge to the penalty, it cannot possibly succeed.'

He added that as the appeal was 'totally without merit', Blakey should beware of pursuing further unwinnable cases 'otherwise he will face the prospect of a civil restraint order'.

In a statement, David Middleton, SRA executive director for legal and enforcement, said: 'We welcome the clear confirmation from the court and the SDT that solicitors must comply with court orders and that failure to do so is professional misconduct.'

Blakey was made bankrupt in April 2013 and as a result his practising certificate was suspended. He is now not in practice.

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