Restoration to the Solicitors Roll – an interview with Jonathan Goodwin

Anyone wishing to apply for restoration to the Roll of Solicitors needs to carefully consider their chance of success, preferably with the help of someone who understands the challenges involved.  Jonathan Goodwin is such a person.  Having spent many years prosecuting solicitors who fell foul of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), he now defends professionals who are facing disciplinary action from professional bodies.

Jonathan kindly sat down with us to talk about why a solicitor can be struck off from the Roll and the difficulties they face if they wish to be restored.  He also informed us of the steps a person can take to increase their chances of being successfully added to the Roll so they can put the past behind them.

Jonathan, thank you for talking to us.  Could you start by explaining why a solicitor can be struck from the Roll and the procedure for doing this?

Following a complaint and/or investigation by the SRA, the regulatory body will look at the information gathered.  If there is evidence that misconduct may have occurred, the SRA will formulate the allegations and send a letter to the solicitor seeking an “Explanation with Warnings.”  The solicitor will then have 14 days to send a response.

Serious allegations, such as dishonesty, will go to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), which is the only entity which can strike a solicitor from the Roll.
Once a solicitor is in front of the SDT, the process proceeds in the manner of a trial.  And like a trial, having experienced representation is the key to a good result.

When will the penalty of striking off be applied?

The ultimate sanction available to the SDT is striking off, and this is usually applied in dishonesty cases.

In SRA v Sharma (in which I appeared for the SRA in the SDT) the court imposed a striking off in circumstances where the SDT were wrong to think the circumstances were exceptional. The court held that the “necessary and normal penalty for proven dishonesty is striking off, except in exceptional circumstances”.

You can also be struck off for offences not involving dishonesty.  For example, solicitors who commit major accountancy breaches or client service failures.  When determining how serious an offence is, the SDT will consider the solicitor’s culpability for their conduct and the harm caused or the harm that was intended or might reasonably be foreseen to have been caused by their actions.

Once a solicitor has been struck off the Roll, can they work in the legal profession?

Not as a solicitor. And if a person wants to work in a law firm, they must disclose the fact they have been struck off to the firm.  They will then have to write to the SRA to get permission to employ or remunerate you.

If you have been struck off for dishonesty, it is unlikely you will receive permission from the SRA to work in a law firm.  Non-dishonest offences may result in permission being granted, but with conditions attached.

Is the classic statement below, made by Sir Thomas Bingham MR in Bolton v The Law Society [1994] 1WLR 512 still relevant today?

‘It often happens that a solicitor appearing before the Tribunal can adduce a wealth of glowing tributes from his professional brethren. He can often show that for him and his family the consequences of striking off or suspension would be little short of tragic. Often he will say, convincingly, that he has learnt the lesson and will not offend again. On applying for restoration after striking off all these points may be made, and the former solicitor may also be able to point to real efforts made to re-establish himself and redeem his reputation. All these matters are relevant and should be considered. But none of them touches the essential issue, which is the need to maintain among members of the public a well-founded confidence that any solicitor whom they will instruct will be a person of unquestionable integrity, probity and trustworthiness… the reputation of the profession is more important than the fortunes of any individual member.’

Absolutely, when comes to restoring a solicitor to the Roll, Bolton remains the key case.  It creates a two-stage test that those looking to be restored must pass.  The first is the solicitor will need to prove they have been rehabilitated.  The second and more difficult test is will restoring the solicitor to the role damage the reputation of the legal profession?  Getting through the second stage of the test very much depends on why the solicitor was struck off in the first place.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to pass the second stage of the Bolton test if dishonesty was present.

How long do most solicitors wait before applying for restoration?

Most of my clients wait around five years.  It generally takes this long to show rehabilitation has occurred.

What does the SDT look for when examining whether a solicitor has been rehabilitated?

To demonstrate rehabilitation, the SDT will consider factors such as whether the solicitor has continued to work within the profession and kept up their skills.  Those who have chosen to work outside the legal sector may find it more difficult to get back on the Roll.

If a solicitor is restored to the Roll, they are likely to have conditions imposed on the Practising Certificate, such as they must be supervised when working with client funds.

What are the consequences if a solicitor applies for restoration and is turned down?

Any application to be restored to the role should be considered carefully.  This is because if the submission fails, not only will the applicant have to pay their costs, they must cover the SRA’s cost as well.

What can your firm do to help solicitors who wish to be restored to the Role?

The most important thing to do is get advice from an expert in defending solicitors before you make the application.  They will understand the procedure, tests and evidence required to improve an applicant’s chance of success.  For example, one of the steps I would be at pains to take is to collate all the evidence I could to prove that the applicant has been rehabilitated and has kept their hand in the law by undertaking professional development courses.  I would also present character references and make sure that all the evidence is presented to the SDT in the right way.  Understanding all this can make a significant difference to the outcome.

We have been helping legal professionals with professional disciplinary and regulatory hearings for over 20 years.  If you have any questions relating restoration to the Solicitors Roll, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete a Free Online Enquiry.