A solicitor struck off after it emerged he had been convicted of harassing a woman in Norway nearly 20 years ago has failed in his challenge to the decision.
Mr Justice Saini said the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has been justified in describing the Farid El Diwany’s misconduct as being “at the highest level”.
The SDT found that, while he had been provoked, his reaction had crossed the line. He also failed to report the convictions to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Mr El Diwany, 62, qualified in 1990 and practised most recently at East London law firm Gawor & Co until 2017. The firm dismissed him after he disclosed his criminal record in Norway and reported him to the regulator.
He was first convicted in his absence in 2001, and fined the equivalent of about £900, for harassing a Norwegian woman over a period of years, a decision described by the court at the time as lenient.
Two years later, he was convicted again over faxes sent again to various people and organisations with highly personal information about the woman and encouraging them to find out more about her on a website he set up.
He was sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for two years, subject to him removing the website and not contacting the woman. However, as of the SDT hearing in December 2019, the website was still live.
Mr El Diwany argued that he was provoked by the woman, including false accusations that he had attempted to rape her and threatened to kill her son, and he claimed she was behind a number of seriously damaging and false newspaper articles about him.
After the stories in Norwegian press, he received letters which the SDT described as “vile and Islamaphobic”.
Though it was “understandable” that he would want to respond to what had been published about him, the SDT said “the way in which he responded went beyond an understandable and acceptable response”.
The solicitor must have known that he had “crossed the line”, sending the woman “profoundly unpleasant” correspondence.
Further, if what he said about the woman’s vulnerability and personal difficulties was true, “this made such an aggressive, personal and public campaign against her worse”.
As a result, the SDT ruled there were no exceptional circumstances based on provocation that justified going behind the convictions – especially as the Norwegian courts had considered and rejected similar submissions.
On appeal to the High Court, Mr El Diwany’s major point was again that he had been subjected to extreme provocation, and said the striking-off was a disproportionate response to the offences.
Saini J said he “needed no persuading that these publications were very upsetting to him and that they plainly included racist and anti-Muslim content”.
But he agreed that the provocation did not excuse his behaviour. “There was no error in this conclusion and indeed any other conclusion would have been unjustified.”
The judge also upheld the sanction. “The tribunal was entitled to regard the misconduct as extremely serious and to find that Mr El Diwany’s ‘complete lack of insight’ heightened the ongoing risk to the public. They were not in error in describing the misconduct as being ‘at the highest level’.
“It clearly was. They also directed themselves expressly in accordance with the material case law.
“It is fair to observe that before me Mr El Diwany showed a bit more insight than he had before the tribunal. But, in my view, he still did not in reality accept the seriousness of what he had done.
“He said that he had gone ‘a bit over the top’ and had been ‘blunt’ in his communications with Ms H but maintained his position that he was essentially doing no more than, in his terms, calling ‘a spade a spade’, in disclosing the intimate details of Ms H’s troubled personal life.”