Ex-solicitor labelled “disgrace to profession” refused return to practice

SDT: Ex-solicitor showed little insight

A former solicitor, labelled a “dishonest crook, swindler and cheat” by a Crown Court judge after being convicted of assisting illegal immigration, will not be returning to practice.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said that Gabriel Yaakov, known as Gabriel Ezeh Gabman when he was jailed for four years, continued to deny his guilt.

Rejecting his application for restoration to the roll, the tribunal said the two convictions at Croydon Crown Court in 2008 “stood as conclusive proof of his guilt, save in exceptional circumstances” and Mr Yaakov had not appealed.

Noting his comments that he had been unable to appeal because he was not granted legal aid, the SDT said the former solicitor did not require representation to appeal.

Sentencing Mr Yaakov for assisting unlawful immigration into an EU member state and possession of a false identity document, a judge at Croydon Crown Court said: “You are a dishonest crook, swindler and cheat. You were a solicitor. You are a disgrace to that profession.

“People came to you looking for assistance, legitimate assistance and it is quite clear that you knew exactly what you were doing. You paid scant regard to the laws of the land in relation to immigration… you preyed upon vulnerable people.”

He was struck off the following year and in May this year applied for restoration to the roll, telling the tribunal he continued to maintain his innocence.

Since his release from prison, Mr Yaakov said he had “tried to obtain employment in the profession but without success”. He had approached “approximately 400” law firms, “200 of whom he knew personally”.

Just one firm had taken him on, in 2014, but had “terminated the arrangement after five days”.

Mr Yaakov said a current job offer he referred to in a witness statement was from the same person who had briefly employed him in 2014, although “he had not spoken to her since then to reconfirm the offer”.

After he was struck off, Mr Yaakov retook his law degree and legal practice course and undertaken an LLM, spending money which the tribunal said he could have put towards an appeal.

He also worked pro bono as a housing adviser at a charity in London, as an examination invigilator and at a firm regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner.

The SDT recorded: “Mr Yaakov told the tribunal that the key lesson he had learned from the conviction and subsequent strike-off was to be much more careful about who he trusted. He told the tribunal that he had been careless and had trusted the wrong people and that was what had led to his conviction.”

Counsel for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said there were “no exceptional reasons” to go behind the convictions and “one would usually expect to see detailed evidence of rehabilitation within the profession”.

The SDT rejected evidence Mr Yaakov said cast doubt on his conviction, describing the two emails he submitted as “vague” and saying they “did not address the specifics of the offence”.

The concept of vicarious liability, raised by his counsel, was “not applicable to these convictions” and the analogy made between Mr Yaakov and someone convicted of rape who was “eventually readmitted to society” was “unhelpful and unfortunate”.

Credit was due to Mr Yaakov for “the efforts he made to pursue his legal studies and obtain gainful employment” but he had not “put any evidence before the tribunal that any solicitor was willing to employ him”.

Describing itself as “troubled by the low level of insight shown by Mr Yaakov into the convictions”, the tribunal said “a fit and proper member of the profession would need to appreciate the seriousness of the conduct that led to the convictions, particularly as the conviction for facilitating illegal entry into the European Union related directly to his work as a solicitor”.

It refused the application to be restored to the roll. He was ordered to pay £3,500 in costs.

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