SDT lifts restriction on solicitor holding management position in firms

SDT: Costs concerns

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has lifted part of the conditions imposed on a solicitor suspended for a year a decade ago for multiple rule breaches, allowing him to return to law firm management.

The SDT agreed to vary the conditions on Norbert Ekene Ohanugo’s practising certificate (PC) even though he had paid only £211 of a potential costs liability to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) of over £65,000.

The solicitor had been sole principal of Wrightway Solicitors in south-east London when he was prosecuted.

The SDT found multiple accounts-related offences proved against him – including transferring the proceeds of a sale to third parties rather than the client without written authority – along with failing to obtain proper instructions or information from a borrower client in a conveyancing transaction.

He was suspended and ordered to pay 65% of the costs claimed by the SRA, which came to over £63,600. He was made subject to conditions meaning that he could not be a sole practitioner or law firm manager and could only work in employment approved by the SRA.

Mr Ohanugo applied to have all the conditions on his PC removed in 2019. The SRA opposed that application and the SDT rejected it on the grounds that he had only practised for 15 months since the suspension, which was “insufficient time for him to demonstrate practical rehabilitation within a firm”. He was ordered to pay a further £2,100 in costs.

In 2018, the SRA had approved Mr Ohanugo’s employment at Moorehouse Solicitors, a law firm in north London, where he has worked ever since. His employer provided a reference and said he had no concerns about the solicitor.

Mr Ohanugo applied to vary the conditions this time so that he could be a manager in a law firm,

He argued that he had “gained insights” into the issues that had led to the 2012 decision.

“He had reflected and worked very hard to rehabilitate himself and did not believe that he posed any risk to the public. Variation of the conditions by the tribunal would assist him in extending his rehabilitation.”

Counsel for the SRA said allowing the solicitor to have a managerial role “would enable him to obtain further experience and continue his rehabilitation”, so long as the ban on practising solo was maintained.

The tribunal said it was “concerned to hear that only £211 had been paid against the substantial costs orders that were outstanding”.

Mr Ohanugo said he had “not shied away” from the issue, but “the order was very difficult to comply with if one did not have the means”. But he had a plan to deal with the costs and was “positive” that he would be able to pay.

The SDT decided to grant the application to vary the conditions, but warned: “If any application were made in the future for a further amendment to, or removal of the conditions and while the tribunal could not tie the hands of a tribunal that might hear that application, this panel, at least, would expect a payment plan to be in place regarding costs and that substantial inroads to have been made to discharge the costs that were currently outstanding.”

Mr Ohanugo was ordered to pay costs of the hearing of £1,911, having assured the tribunal that he
had made arrangements to pay them.

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