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The sad case of the temporarily mad solicitor

Editorial Staff

It would be easy to think of dozens of bad-taste humorous comments to make about the conduct of Iain Farrimond but to do so would be terribly cruel. The circumstances in which he has found himself are awful but so serious that there can be no alternative to serious punishment.

The Tribunal had a great deal of sympathy with Farrimond. According to the High Court decision (reference below), "The Tribunal treated the harm done to the reputation of the legal profession as an aggravating feature. However, it concluded that Mr Farrimond's culpability was low. It noted that there was some element of pre-planning but said that his actions were not deliberate or calculated because it was the result of his ill-health. It pointed out that Mr Farrimond had not concealed what he had done and that this was a "single episode in an otherwise un-blemished career of almost 30 years". It noted that he had shown genuine insight and remorse, made open and frank admissions and co-operated with the regulatory process. It took into account the professional references and the fact that the victim impact statement revealed that Mr Farrimond's wife was supportive of him. "

In those circumstances, the Tribunal found "It would not be proportionate in the light of the medical evidence provided, the excellent references and the fact that this was a single incident that occurred due to the Respondent's ill-health to permanently remove his ability to practice, thereby also depriving the public of a good solicitor. The Respondent's medical condition at the time of the incident was a unique factor in this case and made it wholly exceptional."

In the criminal trial, the Judge had said that the case was "in equal measure, serious, shocking and sad."

The SRA argued in the High Court appeal against the Tribunal decision that the Tribunal had placed too much weight on the "sad" part.

But the SRA focussed, some may say in a way that it does not ordinarily do, on a passage from an earlier case, Bolton v Law Society. In that case, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Bingham, in the middle of a long passage, said "the essential issue ... is the need to maintain among members of the public a well-founded confidence that any solicitor whom they instruct will be a person of unquestionable integrity, probity and trustworthiness."

Within recent weeks, the SRA has allowed minor sanctions against a dishonest trainee, and there have been a raft of penalties falling for short of striking off for conduct which demonstrates a lack of integrity, probity and trustworthiness. One has to wonder why the SRA so badly wanted this particular solicitor out of the profession, rather than subject to supervision and able to rejoin the workforce.

The High Court, sitting in the role of appeals court from the Tribunal, quoted more from Bingham, MR. It said "it can never be an objection to an order of suspension in an appropriate case that the solicitor may be unable to re-establish his practice when the period of suspension is past. If that proves, or appears likely, to be so the consequence for the individual and his family may be deeply unfortunate and unintended. But it does not make suspension the wrong order if it is otherwise right. The reputation of the profession is more important than the fortunes of any individual member. Membership of a profession brings many benefits, but that is a part of the price."

But Farrimond was not subject to a defined period of suspension under the Tribunal's Order: it was indefinite and that means that the SRA remained in complete control of his future, able to apply any conditions it chose to his practising certificate.

Delivering the Judgement, Mr Justice Garnham said " In my judgment ... the sanction imposed in this case by the Tribunal cannot stand because of the seriousness of the offending and the consequent damage to public confidence in the profession it will have engendered. In those circumstances, I would allow this appeal, set aside the sanction of indefinite suspension and substitute an order that Mr Farrimond be struck off the Roll."

Sir Brian Leveson, the President, took a different line and one with which this author has considerably more sympathy. Inter alia, he said " In my judgment, it is beyond argument that a solicitor sentenced to any substantial term of imprisonment should not be permitted to remain on the Roll... It is simply inconceivable that a prisoner, serving a sentence of 6 years' imprisonment, should be able to describe himself as a solicitor and officer of the court albeit suspended from practice. " Had that been the nature of the SRA's application, then one would find it difficult to find fault. The President went on with words that many will consider harsh: " the work of a solicitor, in whatever field he or she practises, inevitably involves a degree of stress and the public must be able to expect that those whom they consult are not so susceptible to mental ill health that they are at risk of behaving as Mr Farrimond did, however difficult the work might become. Before being restored to the Roll, it will be necessary for Mr Farrimond to provide the clearest evidence of recovery such that such an assurance in that regard can be accepted. "

That's all the Judgment needed to say and all the SRA needed to apply for. The President's comments are clear, correct and totally devoid of the cruelty that the manner of the appeal caused.


Source: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases...
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