A solicitor convicted of sexual assault did not fail to uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has ruled in a decision that will have implications for future prosecutions of those with criminal convictions.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) argued that this provision – principle 1 of the SRA Principles – was engaged in the event of “serious criminal actions”, but Alastair Main challenged this.
His counsel told the tribunal that the SRA “always” prosecuted on the basis of a breach of principle 1 where there was a criminal conviction, but he argued that the principle did not refer to a breach of the law.
In its ruling, the SDT agreed. It said: “The tribunal determined that the origin of principle 1 went back to a solicitor’s duty to the court and the tribunal did not consider that this principle was designed to cover non-compliance with the law, rather than upholding the rule of law AND (emphasis added) the administration of justice.”
It concluded that in Mr Main’s case, he had not behaved in a way that breached principle 1.
However, the solicitor, who was born in 1981 and qualified in 2007, admitted to failing to act with integrity and to behave in a way which maintains the trust the public places in him and in the provision of legal services, principles 2 and 6.
He was suspended for two years, starting from the date he lost his job in January 2017 and effectively left practice.
Mr Main, who was in-house at investment firm Schroders, attracted widespread media coverage for his conviction on one count of racially aggravated assault and one of sexual assault.
He was found to have pulled up a woman’s skirt and slapped her bottom five times at a rowing club Christmas party, called her an “Australian slut” and then poured beer over her.
He was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work within 12 months, restrained from contacting the woman and placed on the sex offenders register for five years.
Mr Main maintained before the SDT that his actions were not sexually or racially motivated, but accepted the court’s ruling.
He had appealed against the length of the community order, seeking to reduce it by one day because a sentence of less than a year would not have led to being placed on the register. However, he did not succeed.
Sentencing him, the SDT said Mr Main had “departed to a considerable extent” from the complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness expected of a solicitor, “with the consequent harm to the reputation of the profession”.
Mitigating factors were that he had notified the SRA when he was charged and kept it informed with developments, and that this was “an isolated episode in a previously unblemished career”.
The tribunal said that, as the criminal courts had already punished the solicitor, its role was to consider the protection of the public and reputation of the profession.
The police had assessed that there was a low risk of a repetition of his misconduct and the tribunal said it did not consider that protection of the public was “an ongoing issue”.
However, public confidence in the profession “demanded no lesser sanction than suspension but the tribunal did not consider that the protection of the reputation of the profession justified striking off the roll”.
Mr Main was also ordered to pay £2,080 in costs. The SRA sought £4,780, but the tribunal found “significant duplication of work” between the regulator and its outside law firm, Capsticks, which provided its in-house barrister to prosecute the case.
Further, Mr Main and his lawyer had provided the SRA with most of the information it needed.