The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has overridden the objections of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to lift a supervision order imposed on a legal executive after misconduct that took place almost 20 years ago.
In the case of anonymous ‘Respondent J’, heard in February 2016 but published only this week, the tribunal revoked an order under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974.
Section 43 orders ban non-solicitors from working for law firms without the permission of the SRA.
This one was imposed in 2002 after J was barred from membership of the then Institute of Legal Executives. His misconduct, which took place in 1997/98, consisted of making four false travel expense claims on three fictitious client files.
On two earlier occasions, in 2004 and 2007, J tried unsuccessfully to have the order lifted. They were refused in part on the grounds that, respectively, the findings had been “particularly serious” and that the order had not hindered the applicant’s career.
The tribunal heard that J had now been offered a promotion which he could not take with the section 43 order in place. It was argued that since the order was made, he had been employed continuously by solicitors’ firms and had a clean, unblemished record throughout.
The amount involved was £103 and had been repaid in full. “This stupid mistake had cast a long shadow over the applicant’s career,” the tribunal was told.
He accepted that the 2004 application to revoke the order had been “premature” but argued that in 2007 “matters had been more finely balanced”.
Further, it was argued that the order was now holding back J’s career and should be revoked. As evidence of rehabilitation, a number of character references were provided, including from a district judge whose workload the applicant had covered after his appointment to the judiciary.
The SRA argued that revoking the section 43 order could affect the good name and reputation of the profession. It raised the possibility that J would be given less supervision in his new role.
Deciding to lift the order, the tribunal pointed out that the section 43 order was a regulatory provision “designed to afford safeguards and exercise control over those employed by solicitors where appropriate” and was “not punitive in nature”.
It noted that the misconduct was “very serious”. But it had taken place many years ago and J had since worked for three different solicitors’ practices with no problems. He “had demonstrated insight” and repaid the losses.
It concluded: “In this case, the tribunal was satisfied the applicant had learnt from his mistakes. He had demonstrated this by his continuous unblemished employment over a considerable period of time.
“The tribunal was satisfied that in this case, it was no longer necessary for the level of regulatory control imposed.”
J was ordered to pay £1,800 costs.