A solicitor specialising in motoring offences, banned from driving for three years after a second conviction for drink-driving, has been fined £15,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
However, the SDT warned Helen Dugdale that it “very seriously considered” suspending her, in the absence of an up-to-date medical report to reassure the tribunal that she could cope with her personal problems.
“The tribunal considered that, because the respondent’s practice included motoring offences, she should have had more of an insight into the perils of driving with excess alcohol and should have been more engaged with the risks as she had dealt with their consequences in her work.
“The fact that this was the second time she had been convicted, albeit she had suffered no adverse professional consequences the first time around, showed that this was misconduct continuing over a period of time and was an aggravating factor.”
The tribunal said Ms Dugdale had been a solicitor for almost 24 years, and the potential harm to other road users from her behaviour was very high.
Following her second conviction – which attracted considerable media coverage – she had consulted a hypnotherapist, but “did not appear to have taken any other steps”.
However, Ms Dugdale had reassured the tribunal that her conduct would not be repeated and she had now had “coping mechanisms” to address her personal problems, which were “very serious at the material time” and “it would not be too strong to say” plunged her life “into chaos” at that time.
The tribunal said she was “clearly held in high regard by colleagues and clients” and had worked hard to re-establish her career after leaving the firm she had helped to found.
“Although the tribunal was concerned that there may be an increased risk of her once again using alcohol inappropriately were she to find herself in a similarly stressful situation, there was no expert evidence available to demonstrate that she currently suffered from a drink problem.”
The tribunal said that “after deliberating long and hard” and “very seriously considering suspending the respondent from practice”, it decided that a fine of £15,000 was the appropriate sanction.
Helen Lydia Dugdale was born in 1969 and qualified in 1994. She specialised in criminal defence work, including motoring offences.
Ms Dugdale pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol at Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court in September 2017. She was fined £650, and disqualified for three years.
Her previous conviction for drink-driving was in October 2013, when she was fined £800 and disqualified for 18 months.
She was found, by her latest conviction, to have broken SRA Principles 2 (acting with integrity) and 6, (maintaining public trust in the legal services).
A witness at the court hearing described the solicitor “driving her car and ‘zig-zagging’ along a road (with two flat tyres)”, then “swerving to avoid pedestrian lighting equipment”. The witness commented that it was “lucky that no-one was hit by the car”.
Ms Dugdale was also ordered to pay costs of £3,500.