High Court throws out racial discrimination challenge to SDT ruling


High Court: tribunal’s reasons were unimpeachable

The High Court has thrown out a solicitor’s challenge to the decision to suspend him, which he argued was tainted by racial discrimination.

Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said that “no scintilla of discrimination of any kind is detectible, save against bad practice by a solicitor contrary to his professional code of conduct”.

In March 2011, John McLee Robinson, who was a sole practitioner in central London at McLee & Co, admitted four allegations of failure to adequately supervise his staff, failure to act in the best interests of the firm’s client, providing a misleading statement, and failure to provide material information.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) gave him a 12-month suspension and a £20,000 costs order, and recommended to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that he should not be allowed to practise in the future as a sole principal or as a partner of a practice without its prior approval.

He was represented at his appeal by Tooks Chambers barrister Peter Herbert, who is also the chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers and has been campaigning in recent months over alleged racial discrimination by the SRA.

His appeal against the SDT decision was based solely on arguments around racial discrimination, including that the tribunals are not properly representative and that recent reports commissioned by the SRA, such as Lord Herman Ouseley’s in 2008 and more recently Pearn Kandola’s provided evidence that racism continues to affect the access, career progress and training of black, Asian and minority ethnic entrants to the profession.

However, the judge said he had found nothing “which begins to suggest that any wider issues regarding alleged discrimination in the legal profession have somehow seeped into, or otherwise materially affected, the tribunal’s reasoning or decision”. As well as not detecting a “scintilla of discrimination”, he described the tribunal’s reasons as “a model of their kind and unimpeachable”.

Meanwhile, the High Court has separately knocked back another challenge to an SDT decision. In Maistry v SRA, as reported on Lawtel, Mr Justice Cranston found that a fine and costs order imposed on a managing partner of a solicitors’ firm following her admission of failure to exercise appropriate supervision over unqualified staff, and to ensure that material facts had been disclosed to mortgage clients, was appropriate given the misconduct involved and the lateness of her admission of guilt.

With the High Court also overturning an SDT decision on an appeal by the SRA, the authority has had three wins in a week. In each case it was represented by solicitor QC Geoffrey Williams, with Bevan Brittan advising on Maistry, Russell Jones & Walker on Robinson and Jonathan Goodwin Solicitor Advocates on Spence.

 

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