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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.

Farrimond was an accomplished solicitor who, in the course of his profession, suffered a psychiatric episode of such gravity that, on 26th May 2016, without warning, he attacked his wife with a kitchen knife intending, a note he had written said, to kill another member of the family and then himself. His wife disarmed him, despite being cut on the head, and he continued the attack with "a wooden ornament." He then ran to the garden shed with the intent, it is said, to impale himself on a garden tool. On the way, he called 999 for assistance for his wife.

He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced on 30 September 2016. He did not plead not guilty by reason of even temporary insanity or, being in a fugue state, an inability to form the necessary intent.. There was "a considerable body of psychiatric evidence available to the judge which he concluded substantially reduced Mr Farrimond's culpability" but "culpability was not extinguished and, in those circumstances, Mr Farrimond was sentenced to a term of 6 years' imprisonment," which is rather less than the tariff.

At all times, his wife was clear: his behaviour was so different that she could not consider the attacker as the same man she was married to.

The judge, at first instance, said

"You committed this offence in the grip of a severe [medical condition]….which in the words of Dr [J], an experienced psychiatrist, had a catastrophic effect on your thinking….

"The doctors agree, and it's frankly, obvious to everyone, that you committed the offences because of that [medical condition]. It doesn't make sense, but your thought process appears to be that you couldn't cope with work, you would never return to this work, so rather than look for other work or find a dignified way out of it, you thought that you would kill yourself, and then seem to have thought that because you could not, therefore, provide for your wife and [relative], and they would suffer, therefore you would kill them and then yourself. Obviously not only is that terrible, it makes no sense, but that was how you were thinking, because of your [medical] illness….

"You have no innate criminality in you - put another way, but for the effect of your illness you do not have a violent bone in your body…..

"…your severe [medical condition] is very substantial mitigation. Also important mitigation is your good character, and also in this case the fact that your wife, and other family and friends, stand by you, they love you and they care for you, and, in a very real sense, the time that you spend in prison is punishment also on the very victim of this offence…"

That, one might think, would be that. Farrimond would receive treatment and, provided he kept out of trouble in prison, he would be released on early parole to the family that the Judge considered to be sharing in his punishment.

But there was one other thing: as a solicitor committed to jail for a serious crime, his status as a solicitor comes into question.

The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (it doesn't use the grammatically correct apostrophe) brought proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and, on 2 August 2017, the Tribunal "imposed a sanction of indefinite suspension."

In the past, the SRA took the view that the imposition of an indefinite suspension, which was subject to limited rights of appeal, was a more serious penalty than a striking off, for which the range of appeals was greater. However, on this occasion, the SRA decided that the Tribunal's decision was "clearly inappropriate" and that the Tribunal had erred in failing to make an order striking Farrimond from the Roll of Solicitors. The SRA appealed to the High Court where the case came before the President of the Queen's Bench Division and one other senior Judge, Mr Justice Garnham who delivered the judgment.

Seemingly, no one took the point that the nature of the application appears to be, in the light of the usual policy, that where, in this case, the SRA wanted something different and the Tribunal did not agree, the purpose of the action seems to be to ensure that, at least in relation to penalties, the Tribunal does as the SRA tells it to do. The High Court has, on at least one interpretation of the process, been used a a stick for the SRA to beat the Tribunal.