News Release

SRA wins anonymity appeal

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has overturned an anonymity order made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The Tribunal made the order because it only found a respondent guilty of a technical breach of the Code of Conduct.

The SDT decided in November 2014 that just one of the seven allegations levelled against Richard Spector, a former member of ELS International Lawyers LLP, had been proven to the criminal standard of proof used by the SDT. The prosecution brought by the SRA also involved Darren Dale and former solicitor Joe Ezaz, who both also worked at ELS International.

Despite hearing taking up 15 days, all held in public, and Mr Spector's name appearing on the SDT's listings which are still available on the Tribunal's website, it decided that he should be retrospectively anonymised. It also directed that if the SRA was contacted by anyone who had not already been informed of the Tribunal appearance of Mr Spector, it could not mention it.

The SRA appealed this decision at the High Court, and in a judgment handed down on Friday, January 15, Lord Justice Barnett and Mr Justice Nicol upheld that appeal. In their decision, they said the Tribunal had "erred in law" and that the policy upon which it was based was "misconceived".

Mr Justice Nicol said: "I cannot see how the outcome of the proceedings could justify anonymisation. The decision's premise seems to be that there is something discreditable in having been acquitted by the Tribunal of all (or all serious) charges. That cannot possibly be sufficient justification for departing from the principle of open justice.

"The Tribunal's order put the SRA in a wholly invidious position. How were they to reply if they received an inquiry from someone who did not know of the existing proceedings, but wished to know whether Mr Spector had ever been the subject of disciplinary proceedings? Clearly they could not lie. But neither, consistent with the anonymity direction, could they tell the truth."

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, added: "We welcome the decision, which recognises the impossible position the Tribunal put us in by making this order. As the High Court points out, members of the public were present at the hearings and would have known that Mr Spector was there, and of course his name had appeared on the Tribunal listings as well.

"Retrospectively granting anonymity was just wrong, and in light of the Court's comments on the Tribunal's flawed policy, a review might be in order.”

The matter was heard in the Administrative Court in December last year, case numbers CO/2102/2015 and CO/2072/2015.

 

Note to editors

Mr Dale and Mr Ezaz were found to have breached accounts rules, with Mr Ezaz also failing to act with integrity. Mr Ezaz was banned for applying for restoration to the roll for six months and ordered to pay £20,000 costs, while Mr Dale was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £8,000 costs.

The judgment notes that it was Mr Spector who brought matters leading to an investigation to the SRA's attention, and that the technical breach he was found to have committed - failure to obtain the written consent of both parties when acting for them in a related transaction - would not led to a Tribunal appearance on its own.

The Tribunal concludes in paragraph 259 that it was satisfied that (the SRA) had "acted reasonably, properly and on grounds that reasonably appeared to be sound in the exercise of its public duty" when bringing the prosecution against Mr Spector as part of the hearings also involving Mr Ezaz and Mr Dale.

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