SRA rebuke of solicitor revoked for “serious procedural error”

SDT: Lack of explanation from panel

A solicitor has successfully appealed a rebuke issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), after a tribunal found the regulator had made a “serious procedural error”.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said the SRA adjudication panel failed to adequately consider whether an adjudicator’s had been right to find that Joseph Obukowho Omorere’s failure to comply with a county court costs order was professional misconduct.

Further, it failed to give “sufficient reasons or explanations of any consideration that might have been given to this important question”.

Solicitors rarely invoke their right to challenge sanctions imposed by the SRA and succeed even less frequently.

Mr Omorere had acted for ‘Person A’ in a civil claim but the defendant mistakenly paid the damages and costs ordered to their previous solicitor. That solicitor, ‘Firm C’, sent the money directly to Person A, who then did not pay Mr Omorere all of the fees due.

The solicitor sued to recover his fees from Person A, the defendant and Firm C. Basildon County Court ordered Person A to pay him damages but dismissed the claim against the other two.

Mr Omorere was ordered to pay Firm C costs of £3,000. He appealed the costs assessment but in February 2020 was ordered to pay £3,100 within 14 days. He sought to appeal in a bid to vary the order.

He had only paid some of the order at the time of an SRA adjudicator’s decision to rebuke him in April 2021 for failing to comply with the order. She said there was no up-to-date information about the costs appeal at this point.

The decision was upheld on appeal by the adjudication panel, noting that by applying for a variation, Mr Omorere admitted he owed Firm C money. The order was still valid notwithstanding his appeal and also application for a stay.

The right of appeal to the SDT is solely on the basis that the decision was wrong or was unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity.

The SDT stressed that all failures to comply with court orders were serious matters, but that “the context of the non-compliance was relevant in determining whether the failure was professional negligence or whether it crossed the line into professional misconduct”.

Here this included Mr Omorere’s attempt to vary the costs order, although by the time of the SDT hearing, he had withdrawn the costs appeal and paid what he owed.

The SDT said the panel had not given “sufficient reasons as to why it upheld the adjudicator’s decision that the failure to comply with the order amounted to professional misconduct in this instance, rather than, for example, poor judgment, incompetence or negligence falling short of professional misconduct”.

The adjudicator had also not explained this. The SDT said that, where a finding of professional misconduct was made, it was “necessary to set out in clear terms why that was the case”.

It concluded: “The tribunal found, on the balance of probabilities, that the adjudication panel had made a serious procedural error by not giving adequate consideration to the basis of the adjudicator’s finding of professional misconduct and by not giving sufficient reasons or explanations of any consideration that might have been given to this important question”.

The SDT revoked the order and made no order as to costs.

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