The chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has spoken out in defence of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) over its decision to strike off bullied whistleblower Emily Scott.
Paul Philip said the SRA would not be appealing to the High Court against the tribunal’s decision to strike off Ms Scott, who was “deceived, pressured, bullied and manipulated” as a trainee.
The regulator successfully appealed to the High Court last year in the Sovani James case, because it believed her suspended suspension was an insufficient sanction for dishonesty. Ms James was struck off.
Ms Scott was struck off despite reporting the firm, De Vita Platt, to the SRA after completing her training.
The firm’s two partners, Jonathan De Vita and Christopher John Platt, were struck off at the same tribunal hearing for a long list of disciplinary offences, including multiple acts of dishonesty.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend, Ms Scott said she felt “terribly let down” by the regulator.
“If I hadn’t blown the whistle that company would still be ripping people off,” she said.
“They encourage you to give them information then hang you out to dry. This could potentially prevent others coming forward in the legal world.”
However, the tribunal said she should have come forward much earlier.
Mr Philip said: “The tribunal came to a decision that clearly is their decision. Is it within a range of reasonable outcomes that the tribunal could have come to?
“As a lay observer, I would say it probably is, but that’s a matter for her to take up with her legal advisers.
“The issue for us is that here is a junior person in a law firm who has seen criminal activity and felt she couldn’t report it when she worked there, and blew the whistle when she didn’t work there.
“What would we have expected? We would have expected her as a solicitor of the High Court to have reported the matter. She could have reported it to us on the basis of being a whistleblower.
“The consequences were severe, but that’s a matter for the tribunal, not for us.”
Mr Philip said Ms Scott was aware “for a considerable period of time” that there was criminal activity at De Vita Platt in Lincolnshire.
“She had the means to report it confidentially to us and that didn’t happen. That was all considered in the judgment. All we would say is that we expect solicitors to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice.
“That means that, regardless of how senior you are, you need to think about your professional obligations in the interests of society and the profession.”
Mr Philip was speaking at a media briefing at the SRA’s London office, where the regulator’s revised enforcement strategy and reporting obligations were launched.
The regulator has also said it is reviewing its guidance on whistleblowing, “in particular in respect to the reporting of information that may be subject to confidentiality obligations, for example from non-disclosure agreements.
Juliet Oliver, general counsel at the SRA, told the briefing that the guidance was being reviewed as part of a “rolling cycle” of reviews, but also because of issues relating to legal professional privilege and confidentiality.
She added that it would be useful for the SRA to consider the position of trainees who needed to blow the whistle on misconduct in their firms.
Meanwhile, on money laundering, it has emerged that the SRA is intending to focus its thematic work this year on high-value conveyancing, and “super-prime property” in particular.
“This is an area which has attracted much attention in the press, and the government believes it is a high-risk area.”
Ms Scott told the Sunday Telegraph that “the things I was asked to do were terrible, and I felt awful about it”.
“Whenever I questioned what they were asking me to do, Mr Platt would say I could be replaced easily and there were hundreds of law graduates desperate for training contracts.
“I was trying to leave, but was told by recruitment companies that not completing my training at De Vita Platt could be frowned upon by other employers. I was between a rock and a hard place.”