Firm’s “drinking culture” led solicitor to alcoholism

SDT: Solicitor should have realised he had a problem with alcohol after first offence

A solicitor who became an alcoholic after taking part in the drinking culture of a former firm has been fined by a tribunal after two drink-driving convictions.

James Wilson Oram, who was almost two and half times over the legal limit on both occasions, said his tolerance for alcohol had been “exceptional” and he “had not realised how much he had consumed before driving”.

Having moved from private practice to local government, he told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) that his convictions had resulted in “catastrophic consequences” and he had resigned from his local authority employer to tackle his alcohol problems.

When Mr Oram returned to work, he then had to take a step back in his career at another authority.

The SDT recorded: “He had previously worked in private practice where there was a drinking culture involving entertaining clients and he became dependent on alcohol; he had only been able to admit that to himself in the past year or so.”

Resigning enabled him to go to weekday appointments at Alcoholics Anonymous and he had taken other measures to improve his health.

He expressed regret and sorrow at his actions, and said he had done his best to rehabilitate himself.

Mr Oram said “everyone made mistakes, including solicitors” and the public would be disappointed by his misconduct, but he challenged the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s assertion that they would be shocked.

The solicitor was born in 1984 and admitted in 2009, and at the time of the offences was working for Christchurch and East Dorset District Council.

He was initially convicted of drink-driving in February 2016, for which he was fined £800 and disqualified for 20 months.

The second time Mr Oram was convicted, in September 2018, he was fined £700 and disqualified for 40 months. He had gone out for “celebratory drinks with work colleagues” and had not intended to drive that evening, but had been notified of a family health emergency.

Mr Oram denied that his drink-driving convictions had breached SRA principles 2 (acting with integrity) and 6 (maintaining public trust in the profession).

The SDT said that, while solicitors were not expected to be paragons of virtue, Mr Oram had not learned from the experience of his earlier conviction.

It said a solicitor with integrity “would have reached the conclusion he had a problem with alcohol after the first offence”.

The tribunal went on: “He would have considered the circumstances and done what was necessary. One offence might be recognised as a mistake but having had that experience the respondent offended again.”

As to maintaining public trust and confidence, the tribunal said a “second conviction was not what the public expected of solicitors” and Mr Oram “recognised that he had let himself, his family and the profession down”.

The SDT noted that he had driven on the second occasion when “he knew he had been drinking, if not how much as someone else was buying the drinks”.

Even on his own evidence he knew he had drunk three single measures of gin, which turned out to be double measures.

Mr Oram was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £2,000 costs.

This is the maximum that the SRA could have fined Mr Oram under its own powers without referring him to the SDT, and usually drink-driving offences are dealt with in this way – it is likely that it was the second offence which persuaded the regulator to seek a higher penalty.

This week, the SRA published two regulatory settlement agreements with solicitors convicted of drink-driving, meaning both will not be prosecuted at the tribunal. Each was described as an isolated incident.

James Charles Cashman, a partner at City firm Holman Fenwick Willan, accepted a £2,000 fine after his conviction.

A court disqualified him from driving for 20 months and fined him £2,000. He was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £181 and costs of £85.

Part of his mitigation was that he contacted the owner of a stationary car that he had hit and offered to pay to for any repair costs

Having considered a £3,500 fine appropriate, given that he had a “particularly high level of alcohol” in his breath, the SRA reduced it to £2,000 “to reflect the prompt reporting, early admission and remedial action taken by Mr Cashman”.

Meanwhile, the SRA rebuked Hywel Roberts, a partner in the Holyhead office of Tudur Owen Roberts Glynne & Co, for his conviction, which led to a 12-month driving ban, fine of £1,000, victim surcharge of £100 and costs of £85.

The SRA said a written rebuke was appropriate because a public sanction was required and it created “a credible deterrent to Mr Roberts and others”.

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