A solicitor specialising in motoring offences has failed to overturn a £15,000 fine imposed on her by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) following a second conviction for drink-driving.
Helen Lydia Dugdale, who was fined and disqualified from driving by magistrates’ courts in 2013 and 2017, told the High Court that the SDT “gave too much weight” to the fact her work involved road traffic offences.
Ms Dugdale also argued that the tribunal gave too much weight to the media coverage of her magistrates’ court appearances. Her first conviction was covered by the Daily Mail, her second by the Daily Telegraph and the BBC.
The solicitor said she should not be “given additional punishment because the case was taken up by the media” through no fault of her own.
Mr Justice Murray replied that the SDT was entitled to take into account Ms Dugdale’s involvement in advising on criminal law as “an aggravating factor reflecting increased culpability” and she would be “particularly aware from her regular work of the harm done by the offence she had committed, for a second time, in 2017”.
Murray J went on: “The harm of her offending was also increased by the attendant publicity. It was all the greater because of her specialism in criminal defence and motoring law.
“I do bear in mind that she was not an exclusive specialist and, ultimately, she could not control what the media chose to run with, but it is a fact that the media latched on to that aspect of her practice, and it had the result of increasing the harm of her offending.”
The court heard that Ms Dugdale, born in 1969 and admitted in 1994, was an “experienced solicitor”.
She pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in July 2013, and was fined £850, ordered to pay £650 in costs and disqualified for 18 months. She reported the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which decided not to take disciplinary action.
Ms Dugdale was convicted again in September 2017 after being nearly twice over the limit. This time she was fined £650, ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £65 and £250 costs, and disqualified for 36 months.
The SRA referred the matter to the tribunal in February 2018, which heard the case in October. She was found to have failed to act with integrity and to maintain public trust in the profession, which Ms Dugdale admitted.
She was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of just over £3,500.
When lodging her appeal to the High Court, Ms Dugdale applied for a transfer of the case to Manchester, which was not granted, and a stay in respect of the sums due to the SDT.
Earlier this year Mr Justice Lavender granted a stay in respect of £10,000 on the grounds that she paid the remaining £5,000 of the fine and the costs. Ms Dugdale “frankly admitted” to Murray J that she had not complied with that order.
The solicitor, who represented herself at the High Court, appealed on a variety of grounds, including that the tribunal had failed to apply the relevant guidelines and case law, and failed to take into account her mitigation, including her clean disciplinary record up to that point, her self-reporting, testimony from her then employer and medical history about steps taken to avoid a repetition.
Murray J said that “in essence” Ms Dugdale disagreed with the tribunal’s “assessment of the seriousness of her breaches and its assessment of the relevant aggravating and mitigating circumstances”, leading her to disagree with where the SDT placed her conduct in respect of the indicative fine bands.
“But these were all matters for the judgment of the tribunal and the weight of each of these factors was a matter for its judgment. The appellant has not, in my view, identified an error of law in the approach taken by the tribunal.”
Murray J said that while the sanction may be “severe”, it was not “clearly inappropriate”.
He also rejected her appeal against the costs order, finding that the SDT had taken into account her limited means.
Dismissing the appeal, Murray J awarded costs against Ms Dugdale, which he summarily assessed at £10,200 including VAT.