A criminal lawyer who failed to report a drink-driving conviction to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Gail Evans had reported earlier drink-driving convictions and attended an interview at the Law Society before she was admitted as a solicitor in 2002.
Ms Evans told the tribunal that she aware of the need to report her drink-driving conviction, at Woolwich Magistrates’ Court in March 2011, but “panic had set in”.
The SDT said she had reported in latest conviction, in June 2013 at Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan Magistrates’ Court the month after it happened, but it was not until October 2013 that she admitted the 2011 conviction.
The tribunal went on: “Whilst not in itself as big a blow to the reputation as cases which might involve dishonesty and financial loss to clients, the trust the public had in solicitors and the provision of legal services was eroded by cases in which solicitors were seen to have behaved badly, particularly if the public perceived that the errant solicitor had ‘got away with it’ by receiving a nominal sanction.
“The respondent’s conduct in driving with excess alcohol was potentially very damaging – such conduct could lead to death, injury and/or the destruction of property.
“Although this had not occurred in the present case, there had been a serious risk of substantial harm through the respondent’s conduct.”
The SDT said that failure to report the 2011 conviction for two years “included an element of concealment”.
Since there was nothing to suggest that Ms Evans’ work as a solicitor fell below the expected standard, the tribunal’s main concern was “protection of the reputation of the profession”.
Delivering judgment in SRA v Evans (Case no. 11285-2014), the tribunal heard that Ms Evans was convicted in June 2013 of driving with excess alcohol, driving while disqualified and without insurance as a result of the 2011 conviction.
She received a suspended sentence of four months, was required to undertake 150 hours of unpaid work, attend alcohol and probate appointments and disqualified from driving for 46 months.
Details of her 2011 conviction, when she received a suspended sentence of eight weeks and was disqualified from driving for three years, only emerged when Ms Evans responded to an e-mail from the SRA in October 2013.
Ms Evans told the tribunal that early in 2011 her father became ill and went into hospital and she began abusing alcohol again. In February she “had taken an overdose of strong painkillers, but had recovered”. The following month she was convicted, with a “particularly high” reading, of drink-driving.
“The respondent told the tribunal that the day after the court appearance, she had drafted a letter to the SRA to report the conviction but had then received a call to say that her father was very ill. The respondent left London to return to South Wales and her father died early the next day.”
Ms Evans admitted there came a point when she realised she should have sent a letter to the SRA, but by then she was suffering with depression.
The SDT found the five allegations against Ms Evans were proven beyond reasonable doubt: two allegations that she had failed to uphold the rule of law and proper administration of justice, two allegations that she had failed to behave in a way that maintained public trust, and a further allegation that she had failed to act with integrity.
The tribunal said a sanction “at the top end of the scale was appropriate and necessary to maintain public confidence”, but choosing between suspension and striking-off was “finely balanced”.
But it concluded: “Given the seriousness of the respondent’s misconduct, the tribunal assessed that the proportionate sanction was to strike the respondent off the roll of solicitors. Any lesser sanction, such as suspension, would not be adequate in the particular circumstances of this case.”