The High Court has rejected a challenge from a solicitor struck off by the SDT for misconduct, in a ruling which emphasises the tough line taken by the courts since Salsbury.
In The Law Society v Salsbury  EWCA Civ 1285, Lord Justice Jackson said the High Court should only interfere with SDT penalties where they were “clearly inappropriate.”
Giving an “ex tempore” judgment earlier this month in Keazor v The Law Society (unreported – Lawtel summary 26/1/09), Lord Justice Maurice Kay rejected a challenge by Edward Keazor, struck off by the SDT for offences relating to misuse of clients’ funds, but not for dishonesty.
Keazor and another solicitor, Joyce Fortunate Benson, ran a partnership called Bensons Solicitors in central London.
They were struck off by the SDT in 2007 after a visit by an investigating officer from the SRA revealed a shortfall in their client account of over £1.7 million.
The SDT upheld allegations against Benson relating to breaches of the solicitors’ account rules and using client funds for the firm’s benefit, describing her conduct as “clearly dishonest.”
Keazor, the senior partner, was found to have broken the account rules and misused client funds.
Although there was no finding of dishonesty against him, the SDT said he had been guilty of a “serious abdication of responsibility.”
The tribunal said: “He was the senior and supervising partner yet in under two years a massive shortage on client account of £1.7 million had arisen.
“By joining with the first respondent, who had not been qualified enough to practice alone, the second respondent had given her credibility.”
The SDT described Keazor as “reckless with regard to his stewardship of clients’ money.”
His appeal was heard by Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Simon.
The Lord Justice said Protocol 1, Article 1 of the ECHR (peaceful enjoyment of possessions) could apply to removal of a person’s professional status, but the right was subject to public interest considerations.
He said Keazor could not rely on Article 6 (right to a fair trial), because although the Society was required to refer specifically to dishonesty in formulating its allegations, it was not obliged to refer to recklessness.
The Lord Justice also rejected Keazor’s third grounds for appeal, that the SDT had misapplied Weston v Law Society (The Times 15 July 1998).
He said that although there were differences between the Weston and the Keazor cases, the SDT was entitled to consider it as an example of the approach to be taken where it was faced with two parties, one of whom had acted dishonestly, the other not.
Geoffrey Williams QC, a solicitor advocate, represented the Law Society.
“In cases of dishonesty, the Law Society must plead it. The Society does not have to plead recklessness, though it may be necessary for the tribunal to mention it when coming to its conclusions.
“When you’re striking off a solicitor who is honest, he needs to know why he has been struck off. The reasons would not be addressed unless they explained why his conduct was so serious.”
He said the leading case of Salsbury was “writ large” in Lord Justice Maurice Kay’s judgment and “applied to the letter.”
Williams said that when dealing with appeals from the SDT, the High Court now looked for an error of law, and if there was none, relied on Salsbury.
“As I anticipated, the appellant’s task has become more difficult,” he added.