SDT: Drink-drive solicitor did not automatically undermine public trust

Police: Two positive breath tests

A solicitor convicted of drink-driving after a motorbike accident did not automatically undermine public trust in the profession, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has ruled.

Allowing in part an appeal by Orijit Das against the decision of a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) adjudicator, the SDT reduced his fine from £2,000 to £660.

Principle 6 of the SRA Principles 2011 required solicitors to “behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services”.

The SDT said the adjudicator’s ruling “gave the appearance that the adjudicator had automatically considered as a matter of course that every criminal conviction for drink-driving breached principle 6”.

Mr Das, admitted in 2001, was riding a motorcycle when he collided with a vehicle in 2015. Nobody apart from the solicitor was injured and he later provided the police with two positive breath tests.

He pleaded guilty to driving with excess alcohol at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court in November 2015, and was banned from driving for 16 months and fined £1,500

He did not notify the SRA of his conviction before leaving to live abroad in India from January 2016 to February 2018.

On his return to the UK, he successfully applied for a practising certificate without declaring his conviction.

Two months later, Mr Das self-reported it, which he later explained was because he realised the conviction “still had implications” while making applications for car insurance and “wondered if his conviction would have regulatory implications”.

He renewed his practising certificate that December, again without declaring the conviction, which he later told the SRA was because he regarded the conviction as spent.

An investigator at the SRA produced a supervision report on Mr Das in February 2020, requesting that the adjudicator fine him £2,000.

Mr Das responded by saying he had been diagnosed with “certain debilitating health issues” in 2015, and said the investigator had not taken account of his guilty plea and lack of aggravating circumstances.

Nevertheless, in August 2020, the SRA adjudicator found that Mr Das had breached principle 6 and by failing to inform the SRA of his conviction promptly and while applying for his practising certificate he had also breached principle 7 (co-operating with the regulator).

He was fined £2,000 – the most the SRA can levy without referring a case to the tribunal – and ordered to pay £600 in costs.

Counsel for Mr Das challenged the ruling on the grounds that it failed to give adequate weight to the solicitor’s “acknowledged debilitating health issues” by applying the maximum.

The SDT found that the adjudicator had taken proper account of the solicitor’s health, but said her reasons were not “sufficiently detailed” to explain why she had reached the conclusions she had.

The circumstances underpinning the conviction of Mr Das were “serious” but the tribunal said “a reasonable adjudicator would have made the necessary segue” between the fact of the conviction, the circumstances of the conviction and why this represented a breach of principle 6…

“To this limited extent, in an otherwise well-reasoned decision, the tribunal considered on the balance of probabilities that the adjudicator’s approach to determining there had been a breach of principle 6 had been wrong and it quashed this aspect of the decision.”

The tribunal upheld the adjudicator’s decision regarding principle 7 and the costs of £600. It made no order for the costs of the hearing.

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