The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to appeal a tribunal’s decision to suspend a solicitor found guilty of sexual assault as being too lenient, Legal Futures can reveal.
Alastair Main, who was in-house at investment firm Schroders at the time, was suspended for two years, but this was effectively less than a year as it was backdated to when he lost his job following his conviction.
He 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 Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that his actions were not sexually or racially motivated, but said he accepted the court’s ruling.
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”.
On the length of the suspension, the tribunal – which held the hearing on 23 January 2018 – said Mr Main had “effectively been unable to practise” from 4 January 2017, the day following his conviction.
“He had taken a lower paid job outside the legal profession in order to contribute to the support of his young family. The tribunal determined that it would be appropriate to suspend the respondent until the expiry of a two-year period from the date he had ceased to practise, that is up to and including 4 January 2019.”
An SRA spokesman told Legal Futures: “While it is not for us to say what sanction the SDT should have applied, we feel that the suspension of less than a year was unduly lenient and have appealed to the High Court.”