Solicitor suspension appeal rejected by the high court

An appeal on behalf of a solicitor, suspended for offences related to property by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), has been rejected by the High Court. The offences included lack of integrity and recklessness.

The decision withstanding, it was noted that three of the six conditions imposed on Kulwant Singh Manak by the SDT were to be lifted. Lord Justice Holroyde said that the conditions that were to be lifted amounted to a “disproportionate restriction” on his ability to earn a living.

The six conditions would’ve prevented Mr Manak from:

  • practising as a sole practitioner,
  • being a partner or member of a law firm,
  • being a COLP or COFA,
  • holding client money,
  • being a signatory on any client account
  • working as a solicitor other than in employment approved by the SRA

Lord Justice Holroyde, agreed to lift three of the conditions – those preventing him from holding client money, being a signatory on any client account or working as a solicitor other than in employment approved by the SRA.

Holroyde LJ stated “a number of features” of the tribunal’s order on conditions troubled the court.
“First, the tribunal gave no reason for its decision that some continuing restrictions on practice were necessary and appropriate, and no reason for its decision that these particular restrictions were necessary and appropriate.

“There must be some basis for concluding that a defaulting solicitor, having paid the appropriate penalty by way of reprimand, fine or suspension, must be subject to restrictions on his or her practice in the future.

“Secondly, we have no hesitation in saying that a tribunal contemplating the imposition of continuing restrictions should hear submissions about it from the solicitor concerned or his representative.” Holroyde LJ said counsel for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) accepted that this did not happen.

“Thirdly, we note that the six restrictions imposed represent all six of the examples given in the SDT’s Guidance Note on Sanctions as types of restriction which may be imposed.

“The tribunal gave no reason why they were all regarded as necessary and appropriate.

“Lastly, if restrictions were regarded as necessary and appropriate, the tribunal had to determine whether they must be indefinite or be limited in time. No explanation has been given for the decision reached in this regard.”

In 2012, the SRA brought proceedings against Mr Manak and two other partners from the firm Heer Manak based in Coventry. A year later the firm failed to secure indemnity insurance and was subsequently closed.

In 2015 the SRA’s case was struck out by the SDT in what was considered a very unusual step. The grounds for the striking out of the case was abuse of process, including failure to put forward a “coherent or manageable case to answer”.

This was then sent to the High Court on appeal by the SRA and in July 2016 the strike-out was overturned and a fresh disciplinary was ordered. This resulted in the SDT ruling that Mr Manak would be subject to the six conditions.

The SDT ruled, in January this year, that Mr Manak should be suspended for two years and after that, be subject to the six conditions. Holroyde LJ said in her judgment in Manak v SRA [2018] EWHC 1958 (Admin), that the allegations against Mr Manak related to failure to supervise, irregularities in a conveyancing transaction and allegations of “dishonesty, impropriety and misconduct”.

The SDT found that Mr Manak was responsible for a number of breaches of the accounts rules, had failed to pay attention to risks of a conflict of interest and lacked integrity in relation to a loan to the firm. He had failed to supervise staff adequately or at all and acted with recklessness and lack of integrity in the handling of client money, although not with dishonesty.

It was concluded that “Mr Manak argued his case well, and made some attractive points, but in our judgement he was unable to do more than express his reasons for disagreeing with aspects of the tribunal’s decision; he was not able to show that it was wrong.

“The sanction of a fixed-term suspension was the sanction for which Mr Manak’s counsel realistically and sensibly argued at the conclusion of the hearing.

“We have no doubt that it was the appropriate sanction, and we can see no basis for arguing that the term of two years was manifestly excessive.”

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