The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been sanctioned in costs after prematurely stating on its website that it had banned a former trainee solicitor from working for law firms.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said the error had a “punitive effect” on Babar Khan’s ability to find work and caused him an “injustice”.
Mr Khan was convicted while a trainee solicitor in August 2017 of offering to provide immigration advice and services while unqualified, for which he received an 18-month suspended sentence.
In May 2018, he nonetheless applied to the SRA for admission as a solicitor, disclosing the conviction, but was refused.
The SRA did not launch an investigation into the conviction until November 2020 and in August 2021 issued an order under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974, banning him from working for solicitors’ firms without the regulator’s permission.
Mr Khan applied to the SDT for a review of the order on the ground that “the basis for its imposition was flawed”.
Though the application meant the order would not be effective until the end of the SDT process, the SRA still published it online in September 2021.
The SDT hearing, initially listed for January 2022, was postponed first due to Mr Khan’s ill health and then because he intended to appeal against his criminal conviction.
However, in November 2022, he sought to withdraw the application because he had still not submitted the appeal.
The SDT agreed to this and imposed the section 43 order. The SRA sought costs of £2,249, which Mr Khan contested.
The tribunal said: “Mr Khan submitted that error resulted in him not being able to gain employment. He informed the tribunal that he was now self-employed, as at the time of the hearing, buying and selling goods via Amazon.
“Mr Khan was also in receipt of universal credit and supported his family and four children. Otherwise he had no other sources of income and was living in rented property.”
The SDT said the application had been “hopeless” given no appeal had even been lodged and that, in such cases, the applicant would usually be liable for costs.
However, here the SRA’s “publishing error” had “plainly misrepresented to the public and the profession” the remit of the order, and the tribunal acknowledged its “punitive effect”.
Mr Khan’s “ability to secure employment had been adversely affected” by the SRA’s misrepresentation of his practising status, leaving him “in what appeared to be an impecunious position with a family to provide for”.
Given the “injustice caused to Mr Khan”, the SRA’s application for costs was refused.