Struck-off solicitor accuses SDT of Islamophobia in bid to return to profession

SDT: Solicitor showed lack of insight

A former solicitor who accused the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) of Islamophobia for not having Muslim panel members when striking him off in 2019 has failed in his application to be restored to the roll.

It also rejected his request for the latest panel recuse itself on the basis that he required an all-Muslim panel.

The tribunal described Farid El Diwany’s restoration application as “a device to go behind his conviction and an attempt to re-litigate matters already decided upon and appealed, unsuccessfully by him”.

His failure to “grasp” this point was “indicative of Mr El Diwany’s absolute lack of insight on the conduct which had resulted in strike-off”.

Mr El Diwany qualified in 1990 and practised most recently at East London law firm Gawor & Co until 2017. The firm dismissed him after he disclosed his criminal record in Norway and reported him to the regulator.

He was first convicted in his absence in 2001, and fined the equivalent of about £900, for harassing a Norwegian woman over a period of years, a decision described by the court at the time as lenient.

Two years later, he was convicted again over faxes sent again to various people and organisations with highly personal information about the woman and encouraging them to find out more about her on a website he set up.

He was sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for two years, subject to him removing the website and not contacting the woman. However, as of the original SDT hearing in December 2019, the website was still live.

The SDT found that, while he had been provoked, his reaction had crossed the line, a decision upheld on appeal by Mr Justice Saini.

In seeking the panel’s recusal, Mr El Diwany submitted that anything other than an all-Muslim panel would demonstrate actual and apparent bias on the part of the tribunal, as had been the case with the first panel.

Indeed, he demanded an apology for the “flawed and misconceived” decision to strike him off. The latest panel would be similarly “bigoted and Islamophobic” because they were not Muslim, he continued.

The SDT rejected the application, noting it was a “professional and experienced tribunal” that had undergone training on unconscious bias and was familiar with the Equal Treatment Bench Book 2021 and the chapters relating to Islamophobia.

“It was not open to Mr El Diwany to pick and choose his panel, and particularly not on a perception of each member’s religious observances or his belief that they would be biased against him because of his religion…

“The tribunal assured Mr El Diwany that it would be scrupulously fair and that it would decide the substantive application on its merits alone and not upon the extraneous matters which Mr El Diwany had based his recusal application.”

Hhis claims of Islamophobia were also at the heart of his application for restoration too and he levelled the same accusations against Lady Justice Sharp, Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Saini, who had made various decisions involving him over the years.

He argued that the SDT’s refusal to condemn them and the previous panel was indicative of its own “hostile Islamophobia”.

With respect to the convictions, Mr El Diwany said they had been obtained by way of duress and were for matters which would not have been regarded as criminal offences in England and Wales. He reiterated that he had been subjected to extreme provocation.

The SDT said Mr El Diwany had failed to address the central issue in such applications: whether he was now a fit and proper person to be restored to the roll.

There was no evidence of any employment within the profession since he was struck off, nor that anyone was willing to employ him as a solicitor were he restored to the roll. This meant there was no training plan or supervision arrangements the SDT could consider.

“The rebuilding of reputation and trust was a long process which often took many years and in which evidence was required to demonstrate that the applicant had taken credible and real steps to rehabilitate,” it said.

But Mr El Diwany’s application was made a little under two years since his strike-off and there were no exceptional circumstances that would justify restoration so quickly.

It added: “The tribunal also concluded on the evidence before it that public confidence in the profession would, given the applicant’s ongoing failure to accept previous findings against him and the applicability of regulations and law to him, be damaged if the applicant was readmitted to the profession.

“The application was almost in its entirety an attempt to reopen the previously concluded, and unsuccessfully appealed, decision of the tribunal and was bound to fail.”

The SDT has confirmed, however, that Mr El Diwany is now appealing this ruling to the High Court as well.

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