High Court rejects “pugnacious” ex-solicitor’s strike-off appeal

Ritchie: “Remarkable” evidence

A solicitor struck off for making false and misleading statements on applications for professional indemnity insurance (PII) has failed in her appeal to the High Court.

Mr Justice Ritchie described her approach before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) as “disappointingly pugnacious but also a window into her thinking about her professional responsibilities at the time”.

Dr Katherine Alexander Theodotou, admitted in 2002, was principal of Highgate Hill Solicitors in London from 2005. She also has a Cypriot practice called K Theodotou LLC, of which she is principal.

She faced a raft of initial allegations from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), including issuing group litigation proceedings without consent and, in relation to other litigation, seeking to charge improper additional fees and breaching the accounts rules.

She was also accused of failing to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) by not complying with decisions to pay awards to former clients for several months.

However, the SDT decided that the second set of allegations relating to her PII applications in 2020 and 2021, which involved accusations of dishonesty, should be heard first.

In the event, the tribunal stayed the initial allegations, granting the SRA liberty to restore, and did not consider them.

This was after finding she had acted dishonestly by failing to mention in her PII forms that she had been investigated three times by the SRA, been ordered by LeO to make awards, and that the SDT proceedings had been issued.

Dr Theodotou’s main argument on appeal was that the SDT should have heard all the allegations together and that, by failing to do so, it took a flawed approach to the issue of dishonesty.

The first set of allegations concerned group litigation she was handling on behalf of many clients in Cyprus and the UK. Her defence would have been that it fell within the Cypriot jurisdiction and so outwith that of the SRA and LeO.

She said the jurisdiction issue was also “fundamental” to the allegations that were considered as it explained her state of mind when the PII forms were completed. She said that, because she believed the SRA’s investigations and LeO awards were invalid for want of jurisdiction, they did not need to be declared.

Ritchie J said the SDT rejected the same defence. He went on: “To the extent that this solicitor of the Supreme Court was in effect giving evidence that she believed she could deny the existence of SRA and SDT investigations and Legal Ombudsman awards, even though she knew of the existence of these, is quite remarkable in my judgment.

“The more I considered this submission, the less I found it attractive. Even accepting that the appellant utterly and completely believed that she had a good defence to all of the SRA investigations, the SDT charges and the Legal Ombudsman’s awards (none of which awards were appealed or reviewed), that is a completely separate matter from denying the existence of those matters.”

Dr Theodotou had also told the SDT that it was “futile” to disclose the existence of the SRA and SDT investigations to her prospective insurers and that “as a Cypriot I do not acknowledge them”. Ritchie J described these comments as “disappointingly pugnacious but also a window into her thinking about her professional responsibilities at the time”.

He added that it was not necessary to hear all the allegations at the same time. She was “not unfairly restricted at trial from asserting her belief” that the regulatory investigations were flawed.

Ritchie J went on to reject Dr Theodotou’s secondary challenges to the SDT’s decision.

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