Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED November 21, 2003

It was not proportionate or justified to impose a condition on the appellant solicitor's practising certificate that would be likely to have the effect that he would have to cease to practise.Appeal by a solicitor ('F') from the decision of the Law Society's Adjudication Review Panel ('the review panel') upholding the imposition of conditions on F's practising certificate. In 1999, the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal ('SDT') found that there had been breaches of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules in respect of F's practice. Subsequently an adjudicator granted F a practising certificate for 1998/1999 subject to the condition that he lodged half-yearly accountants' reports with the Law Society. That condition was continued for the subsequent years 1999/2000, 2000/2001 and 2001/2002. F did not submit reports in accordance with the condition in those years and admitted the breach in proceedings before the SDT. Since 2001 he had been practising on his own account from home. He blamed the failure to file accounts on his accountant and the accountant accepted responsibility for that failure. The SDT made no order against F on the basis that the fault was that of F's accountant. The adjudicator decided to impose conditions on F's 2002/2003 practising certificate, namely: (i) that F could only act as a solicitor in employment approved by the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, or as a member of a partnership, or as an officeholder or shareholder of an incorporated solicitors practice if so approved; and (ii) that F had to attend an accounts course approved by the Law Society. That decision was reviewed and upheld by the review panel. On this appeal, F argued that the first condition preventing him practising as a sole principal effectively prevented him practising at all because he practised on his own account from home and would have very limited prospects of becoming a partner or obtaining employment with another firm.HELD: (1) F had failed to comply with the accountancy obligations but subject to all the mitigation found by the SDT. F accepted that he should have obtained an accountant's report. His evidence was that he had now employed other accountants. In the circumstances it was not proportionate or justified to impose the first condition on his certificate, when it would be likely to have the effect that he would have to cease to practise. (2) In imposing the conditions, the review panel stated that it was having regard to F's overall history and previous breaches of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules. That overall history dated back to the period before he had become a sole practitioner and it had not been put to him that that history made it appropriate for such conditions to be imposed on his practising certificate. To take the history into account at the final stage of imposing conditions was not consistent with fair process.Appeal allowed.

[2003] EWCA Civ 1478