A Solicitor can be "trusted to the ends of the Earth"

The above quotation comes from the case of Solicitors Regulation Authority -v- Sharma [2010 EWHC 2022] Admin at paragraph 34 in the context of there being a public interest for the above to be the case as a default presumption i.e. in other words, a Solicitor is a woman or man of their word.

The quotation of “trusted to the ends of the earth” comes from the case of Bolton v Law Society [1994] 1WLR 512 which touched on the purpose of disciplinary orders in that they were to ensure that all solicitors were persons of unquestionable integrity and trustworthiness.

Having had a quick scout of the ‘find a solicitor’ search on www.lawsociety.org.uk it states as of 09.05.2016 that it is ‘the official database of 152,197’ legal professionals. All of these individuals (plus those solicitors not necessarily on there for a variety of reasons i.e. working in-house etc) are expected as a default position to adhere to what is expected of a qualified Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales.

Just to take one example alone from the Solicitors Handbook (version 16 from 01.04.2016) the issue of undertakings is hammered home on the postgraduate diploma in Legal Practice and indeed most firms have their own internal policies on this:

Chapter 11, Outcome 11.2:

‘…you perform all undertakings given by you within an agreed timescale or within a reasonable amount of time…’

The indicative behaviours in terms of compliance obviously qualify these outcomes but the same principles exist in terms of the expectations of a Solicitors conduct. Nonetheless a breach of a Solicitors Undertaking is potentially quite serious i.e. take a quick look at CPR.r.81.11 relating to ‘committal for breach of a Solicitor’s undertaking’.

The initial quotation, if mentioned to a member of the public could, with a cynical look on it trigger a burst of laughter or indeed the occasional joke. The serious point however to this blog is to remind fellow professionals that the image of the professional can be, and is, marred by the few generally speaking when you look at the number of legal professionals housed within the Law Society database. The writer is sure that fellow Solicitors in similar compliance roles will also review the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal decisions noted in the regular Law Society Gazette issues on a regular basis.

By way of illustration, and with reference to the 04.04.2016 edition of the Law Society Gazette was the case of a junior solicitor ([case number 11314-2014] – please see www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk) who was struck off the roll of solicitors for a finding of acting in a way which caused harm to the profession and the public (reference to the quotation at paragraph 34 of Solicitors Regulation Authority -v- Sharma).

In abridging the conclusion of the tribunal they found that the Solicitor had ‘…clearly been motivated by her desire to conceal her failures… and that her ‘…conduct [was found] to be aggravated by her proven dishonesty…. This was therefore tantamount to placing her in material breach of the duty to protect the public and the reputation of the profession.

Principle 6 (SRA Principle 2011):


 ‘…behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services…’

Whilst it must be said that the individual in question was neither represented and did not appear before the tribunal the message is clear. Those occupying the office of Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales have a standard and duty to maintain and this has a greater reach than the individual circumstances of any case specific facts.

Whilst the above is an extreme example where the sanction of strike off has been applied, never forget the aspects of daily practice which are grounded on the reputational status of being a Solicitor (or indeed qualified lawyer authorised to provide legal services generally) i.e. with reference to undertakings for example.

To link back to costs proceedings by way of closing this is particularly relevant to the certification of bills of costs to the Court (as indeed with any other Court document on behalf of a Client). The case of Bailey -v- IBC Vehicles Limited [1998] 3 All ER 570 goes to show an example of such an expectation as per Henry LJ:

‘…the Solicitor who brings proceedings for taxation to sign the bill of costs. In so signing he certified that the contents of the bill are correct. That signature is no empty formality… The signature of the bill of costs under the Rules is effectively the certificate by an officer of the Court… The Court can (and should unless there is evidence to the contrary) assume that his signature to the bill of costs shows that the indemnity principle has not been offended…’

There is in other words, great faith backing the office of Solicitor and should be upheld at all costs but ultimately the 152,197 individuals mentioned above (of which I am one) have a duty to ensure this happens.

By Nicholas J. Browne, Associate Solicitor