Eady J admits that conditions recognised to be kiss of death for solicitors
It would be “inappropriate” for the SRA not to impose conditions on solicitor’s PCs because of the “harsher climate” in the indemnity insurance market, Mr Justice Eady has said.
Eady J was ruling in the case of Hugh Bryant, who set up the specialist two-partner marine and aviation firm Bryant Hamilton & Co and had a “successful career and an unblemished reputation”.
Giving judgment in Bryant v SRA  EWHC 1475 (Admin), Eady J said the Law Society intervened in the firm in 2005, “with the serious consequences which are almost inevitable in such cases”.
Eady J said this followed a “protected disclosure” Bryant made to the National Criminal Intelligence Service regarding an American client. Bryant was arrested and shortly after the intervention and questioned, although no criminal proceedings were started.
The court heard that he was struck off by the SDT in 2006, but the High Court quashed the finding of dishonesty the following year and substituted a two-year suspension.
The court ruled that the SDT’s ruling was flawed and that, rather than deliberately involving himself in fraud, he had become involved in transactions which “bore the indicia of fraud”, to the extent that no solicitor should have been involved with them without making sufficient checks.
Once his period of suspension was over, in 2008, Bryant was granted a series of PCs subject to conditions. He appealed to the SRA’s appeal committee against the latest set of conditions in March 2011.
Bryant’s QC argued that, in the past, the Law Society would have expected that any solicitor subject to a period of suspension would be able to resume practice and suspension would not be “of terminal effect”.
Eady J said the position “had fundamentally changed” and the imposition of conditions was “in practical terms recognised to be the ‘kiss of death’”.
However, the judge said that even if Bryant were to win the case and get the conditions removed, he would “still face the practical difficulties in obtaining employment purely by reason of his disciplinary record”.
Mr Justice Eady said: “If the SRA considers that the imposition of a condition or conditions is appropriate in the case of any solicitor’s practising certificate, and those conditions are proportionate, it would be inappropriate not to impose them (or alternatively to lift them) simply because there is now a harsher climate in the insurance marketplace.
“There is little doubt that indemnity insurers are asking questions of this kind and, correspondingly, increasing premiums or refusing cover, for good reasons based on experience.
“It would be quite inappropriate to be influenced in the exercise of the statutory jurisdiction in relation to the grant of practising certificates for reasons of that kind, rather than prioritising the relevant criteria of what is required to protect the public interest and the reputation of the profession.”
Eady J concluded that it was “quite impossible” to regard the imposition of the conditions as “irrational, illogical, unnecessary or disproportionate”. He dismissed Bryant’s appeal.