The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has rejected misconduct charges against a solicitor who said he was the victim of technology problems with the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s online system, mySRA, that meant he was not aware of conditions attached to his practising certificate.
The SDT said it was “well known in the profession” that there had “plainly been IT issues” with the SRA data portal in 2011, the first year of its operation.
Ruling that the regulator had not proved its allegation against Ademuyiwa Ogunnowo beyond reasonable doubt, the tribunal said “the somewhat confusing chain of events, and potentially unclear emails from the SRA, together with IT issues, created doubt”.
The SRA had not been able to show to the required standard of proof that the solicitor was “aware of the actual issue of his certificate and that he was consequently in breach of the condition attached to it”.
The SRA alleged that Mr Ogunnowo acted as a solicitor for a Norwich firm, IEI, from May 2012 until the firm’s closure in May 2013, without the regulator’s approval.
Approval was required because there were conditions on the solicitor’s PC, among them that he may act as a solicitor “only in employment which has first been approved” by the regulator.
Mr Ogunnowo was accused of breaching principle 7 of the SRA Principles 2011 and rule 19.3 of the Practice Framework Rules 2011.
To complicate matters, during the time he was accused of working as a solicitor without approval, he was appealing against the SRA’s decision to impose the conditions.
Ruling in SRA v Ogunnowo (Case No.11317-2014), the SDT, chaired by former Law Society president Ed Nally, heard the solicitor argue that he believed the conditions imposed on him were not active as he had exercised his right of appeal.
The SDT said further evidence from Mr Ogunnowo “concerning the Law Society’s Gazette and the suggestion that the Gazette had been informed that the respondent had no practising certificate” only “added to the confusion” over his PC.
The SDT said it “had concerns” about the SRA’s case preparations, including that “the allegation date was incorrect and there had been late delivery of key documents and indeed late delivery of an indexed bundle”.
The “critical document”, a copy of the solicitor’s PC for 2011/12, had only been produced on the day of the tribunal hearing.
Mr Ogunnowo represented himself well, according to the SDT, but his approach to the issues in question “had not been satisfactory”.
Nevertheless, the tribunal accepted his argument that he had not known his PC had been issued with the conditions, because he had been unable to access his mySRA account.