High Court rejects struck-off solicitor’s bid to return to roll

Murray: Hearing for civil restraint order ordered

The High Court has rejected an appeal from a struck-off solicitor whose application to be restored to the roll was refused by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) earlier this year.

Mr Justice Murray said Farid El Diwany’s appeal was “totally without merit” and gave directions for a hearing on whether a civil restraint order should be imposed on him.

Mr El Diwany, 64, qualified in 1990 and practised most recently at East London law firm Gawor & Co until 2017. The firm dismissed him after he disclosed his criminal record in Norway and reported him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

He was first convicted in his absence in 2001, and fined the equivalent of about £900, for harassing a Norwegian woman over a period of years, a decision described by the court at the time as lenient.

Two years later, he was convicted again over faxes sent again to various people and organisations with highly personal information about the woman and encouraging them to find out more about her on a website he set up.

He was sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for two years, subject to him removing the website and not contacting the woman. However, as of the original SDT hearing in December 2019, the website was still live.

He was struck off in December 2019 by the SDT, both for the criminal conviction and his failure to disclose it to the SRA. The SDT found that, while he had been provoked, his reaction had crossed the line, a decision upheld on appeal by Mr Justice Saini.

Mr El Diwany applied to be restored to the roll in August 2021. The SDT refused this in January this year.

He accused the SDT of Islamophobia for not having Muslim panel members when striking him off in 2019 and called for the panel which rejected his restoration application to recuse itself on the basis that he required an all-Muslim panel. The SDT refused to do this.

The former solicitor argued, among other things that a “fair-minded and impartial observer”, having noted that the SDT panel “lacked the necessary firm knowledge of the constituent elements of Islamophobic abuse by virtue of none of its members being Muslim”, would conclude that “there was a real risk that the SDT panel was biased”.

But Murray J said Mr El Diwany “provided no evidence and made no submissions that show that there was any error in the SDT’s reasons” for rejecting his recusal application. Rather, the decision was “clearly right”.

Murray J said many “if not most” of Mr El Diwany’s challenges to the restoration refusal were “based on the premise that the 2019 SDT decision was wrong and unfair”, along with the High Court decision to dismiss his appeal and Warby LJ’s decision not to grant permission for a further appeal.

None of the submissions made on these grounds were “relevant to the appeal” and he had no power to go behind the decisions.

“Therefore, I could not enquire into events in Norway or consider any of Mr El Diwany’s arguments about the injustice of his Norwegian convictions or the Islamophobic abuse he received as a result of events in Norway that he described in his various submissions.

“I have no reason to doubt Mr El Diwany’s assertion that he received Islamophobic abuse as a result of stories that appeared in the Norwegian press around the time of his convictions, including the period leading up to those convictions.

“Obviously, any such abuse is inexcusable and must be condemned. I do condemn it. But I am not able to take it into account for the purposes of this appeal.”

Murray J rejected all six of Mr El Diwany’s grounds of appeal, declaring them totally without merit, and ordered him to pay £13,000 in costs.

“There are other applications by Mr El Diwany that have been found to beg totally without merit. In my order, I will give directions for a hearing at which the court will consider whether a civil restraint order should be made and, if so, what the scope of the civil restraint order should be.”

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