It was recently reported in the Law Society Gazette that a solicitor who had worked overseas for over a decade was unable to convince the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to lift a suspension which would allow him to return to practice law in England and Wales.
The SDT stated that George Babalola was ‘crassly stupid’ in 2005 when he made excessive claims on legal aid cost and disbursements and then being dishonest with investigators.
Mr Babalola returned to Nigeria after the suspension, where he had run his own practice after working for several others. Although he was able to provide superb references, including one from the chair of the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, and had a job offer from a London firm, the SDT was not convinced that Mr Babalola had reformed his character and expressed several concerns about the nature of the references provided. For example, the Tribunal stated that although the reference from the Bar Association was positive, it did not mention how Mr Babalola had addressed his past misconduct. In addition, although Mr Babalola had undertaken a considerable amount of CPD, none of it related to ethics or compliance.
The Tribunal did not rule out considering another application by Mr Babalola, but only if more evidence could be shown that he had reformed his character.
Given that the incident in question in the above case occurred 12 years ago, the questions begs to be asked – “what does a solicitor have to prove to have a suspension from practice lifted?”
What does it mean to be suspended from practice?
If you are suspended from practice, you remain on the Roll of Solicitors, but you cannot practice as a solicitor until the suspension is lifted.
Suspensions can be for a specific period or indefinite.
If you have been suspended, it is important that you do not breach section 1A of the Solicitors Act 1974, which reads:
1A Practising certificates: employed solicitors.
A person who has been admitted as a solicitor and whose name is on the roll shall, if he would not otherwise be taken to be acting as a solicitor, be taken for the purposes of this Act to be so acting if he is employed in connection with the provision of any legal services—
- (a) by any person who is qualified to act as a solicitor;
- (b) by any partnership at least one member of which is so qualified; . . .
- (c) by a body recognised. . . under section 9 of the Administration of Justice Act 1985 (incorporated practices).][ or
- (d) by any other person who, for the purposes of the Legal Services Act 2007, is an authorised person in relation to an activity which is a reserved legal activity (within the meaning of that Act).
You must be exceptionally careful about any future roles within the legal profession to ensure you remain compliant with section 1A. A breach could seriously damage your chances of having your suspension lifted at a later date.
How do I have an SDT indefinite suspension lifted?
If you have been suspended, and you wish to return to work as a solicitor, you need to make an application to the SDT. It is imperative that you seek professional advice as having a suspension lifted requires substantial proof that you have reformed your character. There is also a risk of an adverse costs order being made against you if your application for lifting an indefinite suspension fails.
You will need to provide evidence that you have ‘learnt lessons’ during the time you were suspended from practice. Examples of this can include:
- References which clearly demonstrate that you have taken on board what the SDT stated at the time of the suspension and you have made demonstrable efforts to change your behaviour
- Showing that you have attended courses relating to legal ethics and good practice
Overcoming the challenge of proving that you have reformed and pose no risk to clients is still substantial. The SDT stated in Mr Babalola’s case: “Whilst the references showed that there had been no problems with the applicant’s professional conduct since 2005, there was no positive evidence that the misconduct had been discussed and any assessment made that it would not be repeated, or that the applicant was less likely to act in a reckless way.” (emphasis added).
Although the challenge to lift a suspension is high, it is possible. The most important factor to success is to instruct an experienced solicitor to advise you and provide robust representation on your behalf.
We have been helping legal professionals with professional disciplinary and regulatory hearings for over 20 years. If you have any questions relating to an SRA suspension, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete a Free Online Enquiry.