Scott v Solicitors Regulation Authority: Dishonesty and Integrity.

The High Court dismissed the appellant’s appeal against the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), finding that his conduct lacked integrity and striking him of the roll of practitioners. On the facts, the finding of the appellant’s recklessness and lack of integrity had been inevitable, and the conclusion on sanction could not be faulted. Lady Justice Sharp rejected Robert Franklin Scott’s argument that the fact he was not found to be dishonest meant it was not open to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to conclude that he lacked integrity.

Mr Scott, 48, was a member of Key 2 Law LLP, which was closed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in November 2012. He faced five charges centering on;

• his failure to co-operate with the SRA,
• his breaches of Solicitors Accounts Rules and conduct obligations,
• and his failure to properly manage the firm’s affairs.

The SDT found that Mr Scott had failed to deal with the SRA “in an open and timely manner” and breached the Accounts Rules. He was also found to have permitted money to pass in and out of client account when not accompanied by a legitimate underlying legal transaction, provided banking facilities through client account and failed to run his business effectively. Mr Scott was accused by the SRA of acting dishonestly in relation to the first four charges. He denied acting dishonestly or with a lack of integrity.
The SDT found the charges substantiated and ordered that the appellant be struck off the roll of practitioners. It found that the appellant’s conduct was objectively dishonest, but that the subjective requirement for dishonesty was not met. However, the SDT concluded that the appellant’s conduct lacked integrity because he showed no regard at all for his obligation to protect client money and assets.Mr Scott argued on appeal that the fact he was found not to have acted dishonestly, should have led to his ‘acquittal’ of a lack of integrity. The appeal would be dismissed.

The appellant contended that: (i) the SDT had applied the wrong test in having determined that he had acted without integrity, having focused purely on objective considerations, rather than subjective ones, which had vitiated its determination; and (ii) the sanction of striking off had been excessively harsh and clearly inappropriate.

Lady Justice Sharp said the fact Scott was found not to have been dishonest ‘plainly did not mean that it was not open to the SDT to conclude that he lacked integrity’. Mr Justice Holroyde stated that dishonesty and a lack of integrity were ‘not synonymous terms.’ It confirms the view that a person can lack integrity without being dishonest. It also confirms that where this is the case, the most serious sanction of striking off may well be appropriate to protect the public interest. A person can lack integrity without being dishonest.

The fact that the appellant had not been found to have been dishonest had not meant that it had not been open to the SDT to conclude that he had lacked integrity. There was an obvious distinction between the two concepts. Further, he had neither thought nor cared about what had been required by the rules governing his profession, of which he had been aware. The SDT had considered the matter ‘in the round’, as it had been entitled to.

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