A solicitor who received a suspended prison sentence for dangerous driving after hitting a telegraph pole as well as multiple parked cars has been fined by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
It was “fortuitous” that Kalum Gunarathna did not physically hurt anyone, the SDT said, but “emotional harm was undoubtedly caused to those that observed the events as they unfolded. Those observers included children in a vehicle with their father”.
Mr Gunarathna is a director of East London firm S Satha & Co. Having originally qualified in Sri Lanka 35 years ago, he moved to the UK in 2000 and requalified as a solicitor in 2004.
In February 2019, he left work “having consumed alcohol” and got into his car, the tribunal recounted.
He drove into oncoming traffic at a junction, then went “into a telegraph post or utility post before speeding up in his vehicle and colliding with four separately parked vehicles, one of which was propelled into the middle of the road”.
Mr Gunarathna reversed at speed in a bid to drive away but was blocked by the car he had pushed into the road. He tried to reverse again only to collide with another vehicle, which was shunted into yet another parked car.
The solicitor reversed once more “and hit the first car that had been struck before hitting a further two more cars and finally driving the wrong way down a one-way street”, hitting yet another car in the process before eventually stopping.
The police arrived and confirmed that Mr Gunarathna “smelt strongly of alcohol, was having difficulty in standing up straight and was unable to take a roadside breath test”.
He self-reported his conduct to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) a month later and a few weeks before pleading guilty to dangerous driving at Snaresbrook Crown Court.
He was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years. He was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work, disqualified from driving for two years and ordered to pay compensation of £750.
He was further ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,500 and a victim surcharge of £140.
Mr Gunarathna told the SRA that he was “extremely sorry for my despicable actions and would like to apologise to the SRA and the community as a whole”.
The SDT found that he had acted with a lack of integrity and failed to uphold public trust. His conduct was aggravated by the various attempts to flee the scene.
In mitigation, it acknowledged Mr Gunarathna’s self-reporting and “candour”, as well as the financial reparation made to the owners of the vehicles he had struck.
Further, it was “a single episode in a lengthy and otherwise unblemished career”.
The ruling said: “The tribunal accepted that [the] misconduct was an aberration and was highly unlikely to repeated.
“Weighing all of those factors in the balance, the tribunal determined that the overarching public interest, comprising of the need to protect the public from harm, protection of the reputation of the profession and maintenance of public confidence in the regulator, could be met by the imposition of a financial penalty.”
It considered that £20,000 was an appropriate figure but reduced it to £10,000 in light of Mr Gunarathna’s limited means. He was also ordered to pay costs of £2,000.