SRA pulls prosecution after Foreign Office warning

Dubai: No response from UAE government

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has withdrawn all its allegations against a solicitor and non-lawyer after the Foreign Office advised against taking evidence remotely from a crucial witness in Dubai without permission from the UAE government.

Granting the SRA’s application to withdraw, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Amjad Elias Salfiti and Martina Jovovic denied all the allegations against them.

The allegations related to a joint venture agreement made between Mr Salfiti and Saddiq Omar Abu Seedo between June 2004 and January 2005 to buy a property.

Mr Salfiti faced seven allegations, all advanced on the basis that he had been dishonest, including creating a false power of attorney in relation to Mr Abu Seedo and launching legal proceedings in the donor’s name but without his permission.

The solicitor was alleged to have given false and/or misleading evidence at Central London County Court in 2020.

The allegations against Ms Jovovic, a non-lawyer, were that while working as senior compliance officer at John Street Solicitors, she gave false or misleading statements in oral evidence in the same case over witnessing the power of attorney’s execution.

Mr Abu Seedo, who lives in Dubai, is elderly and has health issues, was required by Mr Salfiti and Ms Jovovic to attend their SDT hearing for cross-examination.

Capsticks, the law firm acting for the SRA, told the tribunal it had asked the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) about whether it needed permission for Mr Abu Seedo to give evidence but the FCDO had received no reply from the UAE government.

By a SDT case management hearing in February this year, the UAE government had still not replied.

The FCDO said there had “long been an understanding” among nation states that “one state should not exercise the powers of its courts within the territory of another, without having the permission of that other state to do so”.

Any breach of that understanding by a UK court or tribunal risked “damaging UK’s diplomatic relations” with that country, contrary to the public interest.

“Therefore, the FCDO would recommend that the taking of evidence should not take place at this time.”

The SDT said the FCDO had set up a Taking of Evidence Unit in November 2021 to deal with checking the diplomatic position before adducing evidence for administrative tribunals.

Since that time, the SDT had followed the correct process, known as the Agbabiaka procedures, incorporating them into its pre-hearing documentation.

At the hearing in February, counsel for the SRA proposed three arguments for going ahead with the prosecution despite the FCDO advice.

The SDT rejected the argument that the Agbabiaka procedures did not apply to regulatory panels/tribunals and said the SRA had produced no authorities from the courts to the contrary.

The second argument – that even if they did apply the SDT should go ahead in the particular circumstances of the case – was also rejected, following the “clear and unambiguous recommendation” from the FCDO.

The tribunal rejected the third argument, that it should make a direction that Mr Abu Seedo’s evidence should be admitted “in a manner that does not require him to give oral evidence”.

The medical evidence produced by the SRA “fell far short” of what would be required to justify this “extraordinary step” and there were “significant logistical difficulties” with carrying out cross-examination in writing in a case with 1,600 pages of exhibits, many of which would need to be translated.

The tribunal said that, after the case management hearing in February, the SRA reviewed its position and applied to withdraw all the allegations against Mr Salfiti and Ms Jovovic, which was granted.

No order was made for costs.

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