The president of the Law Society is to step down later this month in the wake of a High Court ruling that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) was wrong to dismiss a prosecution brought against him by a former client.
David Greene, the senior partner of London firm Edwin Coe, said that – although he fully expected to be vindicated – “the fact that this dispute has been referred back to the SDT during my presidential year will, I fear, become a distraction from my role representing the solicitor profession – at a time when it is facing a period of unprecedented challenge”.
He continued: “So, it is with profound regret that I have decided to step aside from my role as president of the Law Society of England and Wales during the currency of proceedings, with effect from 19 March instead of at the end of my term this October.”
Vice-president I. Stephanie Boyce is to take over.
Mr Greene has been in a long-running dispute with David Davies over unpaid fees; the former client has accused him of misleading the court as part of this.
Mr Davies has brought a private prosecution before the SDT, but in September 2019 the tribunal concluded that his complaint was groundless.
But in January this year, the High Court ruled that the SDT’s decision was flawed both in its analysis of abuse of process and by not properly examining the merits of the case.
Though the court found that Mr Greene has a case to answer, it stressed that it was not reaching any judgement on whether he misled a district judge.
Mr Greene is appealing, saying the court had not considered any evidence from him.
In his statement today, the solicitor said the case “dates back a decade and has been repeatedly thrown out and I fully expect it to be rejected again”.
He added: “I’ve been involved in the Law Society for more than a decade in a number of different guises including chairing policy committees and the policy board. I look forward to further service to my profession in the coming years.
“I wish my successor as president, I. Stephanie Boyce, who will fill the vacancy created and the rest of the organisation well for the future. It has been a deep privilege to represent my profession as an office holder over the past two and a half years.”
Ms Boyce said: “I’d like to thank David for his many years of service to the legal profession, not just as president but as vice and deputy vice-president and before that as a long-standing member of the Law Society council where he holds the international practice seat.
“His passion and expertise for the international work of the Law Society, human rights and the rule of law made him the ideal candidate to deal with the many and complex challenges the profession faces and in good stead to help steer the profession through the end of the UK-EU transition period in December.”
In the wake of the High Court ruling, leading legal ethics commentator Professor Richard Moorhead suggested that Mr Greene should step down.
“If a CEO or chair of a business or similar faced an allegation as serious as this, and a court such as the Divisional Court had considered the allegations and opined in the way that it had, would they stay in post? I think the answer is probably not,” he wrote on his blog.
“Maybe the Law Society have considered this properly and thought about it carefully. They need, I think to justify that position if so. Maybe they, and Mr Greene, think this will be seen as a tricky client getting one over on the Divisional Court.
“The Divisional Court is careful to say they are not deciding his guilt, but they are also careful to set out the prosecution case in detail beyond that which is necessary simply to decide the case. And they specifically re-open the possibility that the misleading of the court was deliberate not reckless.”
Professor Moorhead, professor of law and professional ethics at Exeter University, argued that it was “fine” for an ordinary solicitor to appeal the High Court decision.
“But can he remain as the president of the Law Society, protest his innocence, and take procedural points to prevent a full investigation and hearing? Having read the judgment, I would say no”.