The reputation of the solicitors profession and its upkeep is one of the roles that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) performs. Bringing the profession into disrepute is a serious matter and will be dealt with through a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). The issue of whether convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol, and bringing the profession into disrepute is explored below.
SRA v Olujinmi
In this case a solicitor convicted of failing to provide police with a breath test was fined £2,500 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The SDT heard in SRA v Olujinmi that Mr Olufemi Olujinmi had self-reported his conviction for failing to provide a breath specimen to the SRA in March 2015. He was fined £675, ordered to pay costs and disqualified from driving for a year after pleading guilty to driving under the influence. In his evidence at the tribunal, Mr Olujinmi accepted that, as a solicitor, he was expected to uphold the rule of law, but was “unable to do so on this occasion” due to news of his uncle’s death.
Mr Olujinmi was of the view that the public would not be concerned about a solicitor being convicted of a traffic offence, and did not believe that such a conviction diminish the trust the public placed in him as a solicitor. He stated that the public was more likely to be concerned if a solicitor was stealing client money or found guilty of some other serious offence. The SDT said Mr Olujinmi submitted that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had a duty to act independently, fairly and transparently and that his case was one which should not have been referred to the tribunal.
The SDT upheld the SRA’s allegation that Mr Olujinmi had failed to uphold the rule of law and proper administration of justice, contrary to principle 1 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011. However, it rejected allegations that he had failed to act with integrity, contrary to principle 2, or failed behave in a way that maintained the trust the public placed in him, contrary to principle 6.
The SDT concluded that, all though Mr Olujinmi’s conduct was deliberate and had resulted in a criminal offence, it was an isolated incident in an otherwise unblemished career. The fact that he had voluntarily notified the regulator of his conduct was seen as a mitigating factor in the case. The tribunal ruled that the appropriate sanction was a fine of £5,000, but it should be reduced by half. Mr Olujinmi was ordered to pay costs of £2,500.
In contrast to the above case, where the respondent voluntarily notified the SRA of his drink drive conviction, the case of SRA v Evans demonstrates where the respondent did not notify the SRA of factors that should have been disclosed, it also shows that where there is a pattern of behaviour, over a single moment of madness, that will be taken into account also.
SRA v Evans
A criminal lawyer failed to report a drink-driving conviction to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The SDT heard in SRA v Evans that Ms Gail Evans did not report her drink-driving conviction in March 2011 until October 2013, despite telling the SDT that she aware of the need to do so. Ms Evans was convicted in June 2013 of driving with excess alcohol, driving while disqualified and without insurance as a result of the 2011 conviction. She received a suspended sentence of four months, was required to undertake 150 hours of unpaid work, attend alcohol and probate appointments and disqualified from driving for 46 months.
The tribunal stated the trust the public had in solicitors and the provision of legal services was eroded by cases in which solicitors were seen to have behaved badly. The SDT said that failure to report the 2011 conviction for two years “included an element of concealment.” Since there was nothing to suggest that Ms Evans’ work as a solicitor fell below the expected standard, the tribunal’s main concern was “protection of the reputation of the profession”.
Ms Evans told the tribunal that the day after the court appearance she had drafted a letter to the SRA to report the conviction, but had then received a call to say that her father was very ill and died early the next day. Ms Evans admitted she realised she should have sent a letter to the SRA, but by then she was suffering with depression.
The SDT found the five allegations against Ms Evans were proven beyond reasonable doubt, two allegations that she had failed to uphold the rule of law and proper administration of justice, two allegations that she had failed to behave in a way that maintained public trust, and a further allegation that she had failed to act with integrity, contrary to the SRA code of conduct.
The tribunal said a sanction “at the top end of the scale was appropriate and necessary to maintain public confidence”. In contrast to the case above, this as not an isolated incident , and had re-occurred within a number of years. Given the seriousness of the respondent’s misconduct, the tribunal assessed that the proportionate sanction was to strike the respondent off the roll of solicitors. Any lesser sanction would not be adequate in the particular circumstances of this case.