Richard Barnett, the struck-off former senior partner of collapsed conveyancing firm Barnetts, has attacked what he described as the “incredibly unfair” disciplinary regime for solicitors.
Mr Barnett, who lost a High Court appeal against his striking-off last week, accused the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) of having a “cavalier attitude to costs” and spending “what appears to be unlimited money” on disciplinary actions.
Mr Barnett told Legal Futures: “I was grateful for what appeared to be a fair hearing. The judge commented that I was charming and had no little skill, and this was the first time I’d ever been in the High Court.
“Notwithstanding that, I think it is always an uphill battle and the odds are against you. The bar was set very high, and I don’t believe all the arguments I put forward were properly dealt with.”
Mr Barnett said he faces having to pay tens of thousands of pounds in costs for the High Court appeal.
He made an interim payment of £115,000 to the SRA earlier this year, after he was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). At the High Court he applied unsuccessfully for a court order allowing him to use £30,000 of that amount to fund an advocate.
The SRA, which was represented by Tim Dutton QC, instructed by London firm Russell-Cooke, claimed a total of £346,000 in costs from the former Law Society council member for the SDT part of the case. The tribunal said it would carry out a detailed costs assessment by the end of October.
“The SRA has a cavalier attitude to costs,” Mr Barnett said. “The system is incredibly unfair where they can throw what appears to be unlimited money at a situation, and deal with cases as if they were a matter of commercial litigation rather than a quest for the truth.”
Mr Barnett said the SRA could present a case at the SDT by submissions, without having to prove the facts on which those submissions are made.
Describing the whole disciplinary regime as “weighted against solicitors”, he added: “I call on the Law Society to set up a defence union for solicitors to redress the balance, especially if there is going to be more of a distinction between the society and the SRA.”
An SRA spokesman said: “We are very mindful that our work is ultimately funded by the profession and we look to use resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.
“The tribunal found Mr Barnett to be dishonest. He appealed, as is his right. And it was in the public interest that we mounted a proper defence at the High Court. Any appeal to the High Court will drive up costs.”