The High Court has rejected a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) bid to increase the sanction for a solicitor who committed perjury to avoid a speeding fine from a suspension to a striking-off.
Mr Justice Dove found that it could not be said the two-year suspension handed out by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) earlier this year to Mohammed Imran was “clearly inappropriate”.
Mr Imran, who was born in 1983 and qualified in 2011, was a trainee at the time he was caught doing 40mph in a 30mph zone and received a notice of intended prosecution (NIP). Using information provided by an unnamed third party, he visited a garage in Oldham, where he was given the details of someone he said in response to the notice had been driving instead.
As a result, a police investigation began. Mr Imran admitted what he had done and co-operated fully with the police. Charged under section 5A of the Perjury Act 1981, he was given a two-month prison sentence, with the magistrates saying the offence was particularly serious because it was a “deliberate attempt to circumvent traffic legislation by a man trained in law”.
An appeal against sentence failed, following which he served one month in prison.
Mr Imran reported himself to the SRA shortly after he was charged. The SDT found that “he wished to avoid penalty points and the possibility of increased insurance premiums and also avoid the disappointment that would be caused to his family who held him in very high esteem”.
It went on: “The respondent appeared to have got the speeding notice completely out of proportion. The respondent was clearly culpable for the misconduct but the tribunal found that his actions were not planned but were spontaneous.
“The tribunal accepted the evidence of the respondent that while someone else had given him the information about how he might avoid penalty points without seeking it, he did not embark on a planned course of behaviour to take advantage of that information but rather on a day when he had to be in Oldham on business and when the period for submitting the NIP form was about to expire he made a rash and spur of the moment decision to obtain the false details and immediately completed them on the form…
“The tribunal considered that the public would be inclined to empathise with a young man who had clearly worked very hard to be the first in his family to go to university and achieve a professional qualification and then made a spur of the moment and totally misguided and foolish decision to avoid the consequences of a speeding offence.”
The tribunal concluded that Mr Imran’s dishonesty “had been of very short duration in that it occurred in a matter of hours on one day when a combination of circumstances put him in the way of temptation”.
A “severe sanction” in terms of a suspension for a considerable period of time would, “in what it considered to be the very particular and exceptional circumstances of this case, mark the seriousness of the misconduct taking into account the respondent’s lack of maturity at the material time and would be sufficient to maintain the reputation of the profession”.
Appealing to the High Court, the SRA argued that the SDT was not justified in deciding that Mr Imran had acted spontaneously. But in a decision from July published today, Dove J ruled that the SDT’s finding had been “carefully reasoned and explained”.
He was also unconvinced by the SRA’s argument that the exceptional circumstances which justified not striking off a solicitor in a case of dishonesty were not present here.
The judge said: “It is necessary, as the tribunal did, to record and stand back from all of those many factors, putting first and foremost in the assessment of whether or not there are exceptional circumstances the particular conclusions that had been reached about the act of dishonesty itself…
“I am satisfied that in this case the tribunal, having understood the nature of the dishonesty, certainly placed that at the heart of their decision both as to the culpability of the respondent but also as to the effect of that dishonesty on the reputation of the profession…
“I am unprepared to reach the conclusion that this decision was clearly inappropriate and that therefore I should interfere with it. As a result this appeal must be dismissed.”