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Appeal against SDT strike off dismissed in serious case

Appeal against SDT strike off dismissed in serious case

In a recent appeal against a decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, the Judge began by describing the process as an 'appeal against sentence'. Although this was an introductory remark, no doubt intended to set the scene, it seems to fly in the face of a long line of judicial authority that distinguishes disciplinary proceedings from criminal allegations, and ignores the fundamental difference in approach in the two jurisdictions.

In the case of Aloysius Igwebuike Oke v SRA, heard on 13.11.2013,  Mostyn J dealt with a difficult case where the order was that the Appellant had been struck off for the third time. On the first two occasions he mounted successful appeals. In the first case involving dishonesty his appeal was allowed by consent and a rehearing ordered. On the second occasion, he admited three lesser allegations but the sanction was remitted for a third rehearing due to a number of reasons. 

On 28th January 2011 the tribunal concluded that a strike off was the appropriate sanction and ignored allegations of perjury at the first hearing. The Judge found that the Appellant masqueraded as a solicitor when he was a FILEX and commissioner of oaths. His case was that he had used the wrong stamp on documents.The SDT found that although this was not a case of dishonesty, it was a very serious departure from the standards expected of a solicitor. It would cause serious damage to the reuptation of the profession and to the trust that the public placed in members of the profession.

It also transpired that CILex had taken disciplinary action against the Appellant but that was not disclosed to the SDT, nor to the High Court, despite oral submissions where 'he burst into tears' in 'an affecting performance'. The appeal against strike off was dismissed.

The comments of the Judge do not seem to stand with the long line of authority that seeks to differentiate the function of a panel or committe in imposing sanctions from a court imposing retributive punishment - see for example [NMC v Marcus 2011].  As Sir Anthony Clarke said in Meadow v GMC in 2006, 'the purpose of fitness to practice proceedings is not to punish the practitioner for his past misdoings, but to protect the public against the acts or ommissions of those who are not fit to practice'.

However, it is quite clear that the Judge accepted the submissions of Geofrey Williams Q.C. for the SRA that this case was 'at the top end of reprehensible behaviour, that the potential damage that could be caused by falsely masquerading as a solicitor is 'incalculable' and that the potential damage to the reputation of the profession by such condcut was 'huge', so the decision is otherwise un remarkable as the clear guiding principle was the need to protect the public and the public interest.

For any advice and assistance for issues like these please do call Jeremy on 0844 2722322 or submit a comment below. Jeremy will come back to you at the earliest convenience.

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