High Court: tribunal was plainly entitled to reach the decision it did

It was third time unlucky for a solicitor whose striking-off had twice been overturned by the High Court, as Mr Justice Mostyn yesterday rejected his challenge to the latest decision to remove him from the roll.

Aolysius Igwebuike Obi twice managed to have his case reheard because of High Court concerns about the reasons given for sentencing by the different Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunals that considered his case.

The charges against him, which dated back to events in 2002, centred around misrepresenting his status as a practising solicitor at an east London law firm before the then legal executive had actually requalified as a solicitor. There was no allegation of dishonesty. Despite the court cases, he had effectively been removed from the roll in 2006.

The third tribunal, which ordered him to be struck off, said his behaviour was a very serious departure from the standards expected of a solicitor and that the conduct would have caused serious damage to the reputation of the profession and to the trust the public placed in solicitors.

Mostyn J said he agreed with the submission of Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) counsel Geoffrey Williams QC that “in the sphere of non-dishonest misconduct, the admitted charges were at the tip end of reprehensible behaviour… The potential damage that could be caused by falsely masquerading as a solicitor is incalculable. The potential damage to the reputation of the profession by such conduct is huge”.

He said the strike-off was a decision the tribunal was “plainly entitled to reach. Indeed, had I been sitting on it, I believe I would have reached precisely the same decision, notwithstanding my feelings of sympathy for the predicament in which the appellant finds himself”.

The judge said Mr Obi’s witness statement contained “heartrending pleas concerning the terrible hardship that had been inflicted on him by virtue of being barred from practice for seven years. In his oral submissions to me he burst into tears when he described how he had had to work as a cleaner. It was an affecting performance”.

But equally the judge was clearly annoyed that despite Mr Obi having maintained, as part of his mitigation, that the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) had continued his membership despite knowing of the ongoing proceedings, it emerged shortly before the High Court hearing that he had actually been excluded from membership of CILEx for five years.

“Had it not been for some vigilant reader in the SRA [of the CILEx Journal, which reported the decision earlier this month], this court would have been materially misled.”

In making a costs order for £16,000 – in line with an indemnity assessment given Mr Obi’s “want of candour” – Mostyn J said Mr Williams’ charging rate of £300 per hour was “reasonable for any counsel doing a case of this nature”.

The full ruling can be found here.

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