High Court rejects solicitor’s appeal against suspension

High Court: SDT gave no reasons for conditions

The High Court has rejected an appeal by a solicitor against his suspension by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) but for property-related offences including lack of integrity and recklessness.

Lord Justice Holroyde said, however, that three of the six conditions imposed on Kulwant Singh Manak by the SDT following his two-year suspension should be lifted as they imposed a “disproportionate restriction” on his ability to earn a living.

The six conditions prevented him from practising as a sole practitioner, being a partner or member of a law firm, being a COLP or COFA, holding client money, being a signatory on any client account or working as a solicitor other than in employment approved by the SRA.

Holroyde LJ said “a number of features” of the tribunal’s order on conditions troubled the court.

“First, the tribunal gave no reason for its decision that some continuing restrictions on practice were necessary and appropriate, and no reason for its decision that these particular restrictions were necessary and appropriate.

“There must be some basis for concluding that a defaulting solicitor, having paid the appropriate penalty by way of reprimand, fine or suspension, must be subject to restrictions on his or her practice in the future.

“Secondly, we have no hesitation in saying that a tribunal contemplating the imposition of continuing restrictions should hear submissions about it from the solicitor concerned or his representative.”

Holroyde LJ said counsel for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) accepted that this did not happen.

“Thirdly, we note that the six restrictions imposed represent all six of the examples given in the SDT’s Guidance Note on Sanctions as types of restriction which may be imposed.

“The tribunal gave no reason why they were all regarded as necessary and appropriate. Lastly, if restrictions were regarded as necessary and appropriate, the tribunal had to determine whether they must be indefinite or be limited in time. No explanation has been given for the decision reached in this regard.”

As Holroyde LJ said, the proceedings involving Mr Manak had a “very long history”.

The SRA brought proceedings against three partners, including Mr Manak, and two solicitors in Coventry firm Heer Manak in 2012. The firm closed the following year, after failing to secure indemnity insurance.

The SDT took the highly unusual step of striking out the SRA’s case against them in 2015 on the grounds of abuse of process, including failure to put forward a “coherent or manageable case to answer”.

The regulator appealed to the High Court in respect of allegations relating to Mr Manak and solicitor Rajbinder Kaur Dhillon. Delivering judgment in July 2016, Mrs Justice Thirlwall overturned the strike-out of allegations against them and ordered a fresh disciplinary hearing.

The SDT ruled, in January this year, that Mr Manak should be suspended for two years and after that, be subject to the six conditions.

Having found Ms Dhillon, who had come off the roll of solicitors, to have been dishonest, the SDT imposed an order preventing her from being restored to the roll without its permission.

Mr Manak appealed to the High Court to overturn his suspension, but Ms Dhillon did not appeal.

Delivering judgment in Manak v SRA [2018] EWHC 1958 (Admin), Holroyde LJ said the allegations against Mr Manak related to failure to supervise, irregularities in a conveyancing transaction and allegations against both Mr Manak and Ms Dhillon of “dishonesty, impropriety and misconduct” in relation to transactions in the name of Ms Dhillon’s parents.

The SDT found that Mr Manak was responsible for a number of breaches of the accounts rules, had failed to pay attention to risks of a conflict of interest and lacked integrity in relation to a loan to the firm.

He had failed to supervise staff adequately or at all and acted with recklessness and lack of integrity in the handling of client money, although not with dishonesty.

Holroyde LJ concluded: “Mr Manak argued his case well, and made some attractive points, but in our judgment he was unable to do more than express his reasons for disagreeing with aspects of the tribunal’s decision; he was not able to show that it was wrong.

“The sanction of a fixed-term suspension was the sanction for which Mr Manak’s counsel realistically and sensibly argued at the conclusion of the hearing.

“We have no doubt that it was the appropriate sanction, and we can see no basis for arguing that the term of two years was manifestly excessive.”

Holroyde LJ did, however, agree to lift three of the conditions – those preventing him from holding client money, being a signatory on any client account or working as a solicitor other than in employment approved by the SRA.

Mrs Justice Nicola Davies agreed.

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