TAG solicitor to fight High Court ruling upgrading fine to striking-off

High Court: strike-off protects the standing of the profession, say judges

A solicitor involved with failed claims handler The Accident Group (TAG) is to appeal against a High Court order to strike him off, after it ruled that a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) decision to impose a fine was too lenient.

Anthony Dennison, who was a partner at Rowe Cohen, the Manchester law firm that vetted personal injury claims for TAG – which collapsed in 2003 owing £100 million – had been fined £23,500 by the SDT.

Most of the fine was for dishonestly concealing his part-ownership of Legal Report Services (LRS), a company that supplied medical reports for clients for whom Rowe Cohen acted under the TAG scheme – a deal he arranged.

The SDT declined to strike him off the solicitors’ roll or suspend him from practising. Unusually, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) appealed, arguing that striking off was appropriate. In SRA v Dennison [2011] EWHC 291 (Admin), the High Court agreed.

Mr Dennison, now joint managing partner of Dennison Greer Solicitors, a firm he co-founded in 2007, admitted conflict of interest but denied dishonesty. However, the SDT found that he had acted dishonestly by failing to disclose his interest in LRS to his former partners, and by his efforts to conceal his shareholding and keep the considerable profits and share value to himself.

But it also noted that Mr Dennison had made payments to his former partners and decided the case was “very unusual, not to say unique, and not related solely to a regulatory matter”. Given also the length of time that had passed, it concluded that no member of the public would be at risk if he continued to practise and ruled he should neither be struck off the roll or suspended from practice.

The SRA appealed, arguing that “a finding of dishonesty almost invariably leads to the solicitor being struck off” and that a fine “was excessively lenient and therefore clearly inappropriate”.

Following a hearing last month, Mr Justice Lloyd Jones and Lord Justice Toulson upheld the SRA’s appeal and ordered that Mr Dennison be struck off; they said a suspension would not protect the standing of the profession. The court stayed the effect of the order pending an appeal.

In relation to Mr Dennison’s concealment of his interest in LRS, the judgment said: “The dishonest conduct involved repeated wrongdoing over a long period of time. Clients were referred to LRS for the commissioning of medical reports from 1999 until 2003 when TAG collapsed. Rowe Cohen acted for some 7,000 clients under the scheme, none of whom were told about Mr Dennison’s secret interest. Nor was TAG informed of his secret interest.”

Mr Dennison told Legal Futures he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision and that he would appeal. He highlighted the fact the SDT had ruled that he should be allowed to continue in practice and that nobody had lost money as a result of his actions.

He added: “I believe that an experienced tribunal, as this was, is best placed to decide whether or not a solicitor should continue in practice.”

After the tribunal ruling and before succeeding at the High Court, the SRA had attached a condition to Mr Dennison’s practising certificate to ensure that, in the words of the judgment, “in the future Mr Dennison does not have sole responsibility for compliance with the rules and regulations which govern all solicitors”.

Meanwhile, in another High Court case involving the SRA, this time as respondent, a solicitor has successfully challenged the attachment of conditions to his practising certificate.

Coventry v SRA [2011] EWHC 505 (Admin) involved a solicitor who was struck off and readmitted to the roll 10 years later. Conditions on the solicitor’s subsequent practising certificates required prior approval by the SRA of his employment. He appealed against five conditions attached to his 2009-10 certificate.

The SRA accepted that the test in relation to the Practising Regulations 2009 had not been properly stated by the adjudicator, but said the conditions were necessary. The adjudicator had not referred to the fact that regulatory conditions were not only necessary but also reasonable and proportionate.

In the Administrative Court, Mr Justice Blair held that the appeal should be allowed because the adjudicator had had failed to apply the proper test.

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