Hundreds of corrupt solicitors could escape having their practices shut down by the Law Society by claiming it infringes their human rights
A judgment handed down last week said that, by closing a solicitor’s practice, the society could be breaching the Human Rights Act. When a solicitor is suspected of dishonesty, the society usually stops them from practising. It has now been thrown into confusion over how to force the 100 practices it intervenes in every year to cease trading.
On 25 July, solicitor David Holder won the right to appeal against the Law Society’s decision last year to close his practice. When the society started investigating him in June 2001, there was at least £200,950 missing from his client account.
In allowing the appeal, Mr Justice Peter Smith said that forcefully closing a solicitor’s practice could infringe an individual’s right to enjoy personal possessions, outlined in the 1998 Human Rights Act. A solicitor’s practice, containing a book of business, files, documents and office equipment, is legally a personal possession.
The Law Society takes on an average of 100 interventions a year, it said in Holder’s appeal. Jack Rabinowicz of Teacher Stern Selby, who acted for Holder pro bono, questioned why the Law Society had not modernised its intervention methods since the Human Rights Act was published in 1998.
“You’d have thought the Law Society would have reviewed its powers under the Human Rights Act, but it doesn’t appear so,” he said.
Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva said: “We’ll consider the points raised in the judgment very carefully. It is the Law Society’s role to regulate effectively, and to deal efficiently, with alleged malpractice when discovered.”