Solicitors Discipliniary Tribunal sees rise in appearances

The number of solicitors appearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has risen, with 140 applicants in 2015.

According to the panel’s latest annual report, this represents a substantial rise with 117 applicants in 2013.

Of those 140, the overwhelming majority (123) involved practising solicitors, two in respect of solicitors clerks alone with five of those involving a solicitor also involving a clerk.

There were six applications for restoring to the roll and three to revoke, quash or vary a section 43 order. There were also three applications for indefinite suspension, two to vary practising certificate conditions and one for re-hearing.

Despite the rise from last year however, the number of applications is still significantly lower than those appearing in 2012, when 210 appeared before the tribunal, including 179 practising solicitors.

In terms of outcomes from tribunals, fifty-six solicitors were struck off the roll, three were indefinitely suspended (and twelve for a fix period), 33 were fined and eight reprimanded.

During the period of September 2014 to December 2015 fined 45 solicitors for amounts between £1,000 and £305,000. The fines, which are payable to HMRC, totalled £516,000 for the 2015 calendar year. However the amount of costs awarded outstripped fines, with £1.7 million awarded in favour of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The fine of £305,000 was the single highest fine ever levied by the tribunal, in the case of Nigel Harvie, a man who took control of a vulnerable old woman’s house in return for paying her care and living expenses, in what the tribunal said was a serious breach of trust. The previous highest fine for a solicitor was £40,000.

One tribunal Solicitor Member said, Timothy Smith, wrote in the report: “Sitting in Tribunal common themes emerge. There are some who are simply unsuited to be solicitors due to moral defects. There are some who have exemplary records but then for reasons that they themselves cannot account for have completely breached their professional responsibilities.

“There is then a further, and perhaps a more common, category of solicitors who are competent lawyers but do not have the rounded set of skills to run a business. Frequently small problems escalate. Such solicitors would do well to remember that an admission of wrong doing, a request for help, and an attempt to put things right may save a professional career.”

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