Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED October 15, 2003

The appellant solicitor's penalty for conduct unbefitting a solicitor was reduced from two years' to one year's suspension where a tribunal's findings were quashed concerning several of the allegations against him, but would not be removed entirely where the overall culpability disclosed by the remaining four offences still required to be marked by a period of suspension.Appeal pursuant to s.49 Solicitors' Act 1974 by a solicitor ('J') against the decision of the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal in July 2002. The tribunal found J guilty of seven allegations of conduct unbefitting a solicitor, and ordered him to be suspended from practice as a solicitor for two years. J challenged a number of findings of the tribunal in relation to several of the seven allegations and/or its conclusion on the basis of those findings. His complaints were: (i) unreasonable delay by the tribunal with reference to Art.6 European Convention on Human Rights, submitting that the only effective remedy for the delay of up to 14 or 15 years from start to finish of all the conduct complained of was to quash the whole of the tribunal's findings; (ii) bias on the part of the tribunal; (iii) that the tribunal had been incorrect in their findings of professional misconduct; and (iv) that the tribunal had been incorrect in their finding of conduct unbefitting a solicitor.HELD: (1) The delays involved in the proceedings did not reach the Art.6(1) threshold. None of the delays caused J any prejudice. (2) In claims of objective bias the test was whether in the circumstances a fair minded observer would have considered that there had been a real possibility of bias. The instant case, judged in an objective way, was not such as to require the tribunal to rescue itself from hearing the matters. (3) The tribunal's finding of professional misconduct in respect of J would be quashed. The allegation which the tribunal had found proved was that J, in the course of cross-examination of a witness at the 1998 tribunal, negligently asserted that all of G's fees had been paid. However J's behaviour in relation to this allegation could not be said to have amounted to professional misconduct. (4) The tribunal's findings in relation to conduct unbefitting a solicitor in respect of the two allegations arising out of the judicial review matter would be quashed. (5) J's penalty would be reduced to one year's suspension from practice. (6) Those responsible administratively and judicially for regulation of the solicitors' profession should now have the 'reasonable time' requirement of Art.6 in the forefront of their minds in any disciplinary process for which they were responsible.Appeal allowed in part.

[2003] EWHC 2271 (Admin)