Solicitor Anthony Dennison should be struck off for his part in The Accident Group (TAG) scandal, the Court of Appeal (CoA) has ruled.
In a keenly awaited judgment, the CoA endorsed the powers of the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) but said the SDT was wrong not to have struck off the solicitor after he was found to have acted dishonestly and deliberately misled his partners.
Giving the substantive judgment, Lord Justice Moore-Bick stated: “Despite the tribunal’s view that it was not appropriate or necessary for Mr Dennison to be struck off or suspended, I’m unable to accept that his dishonesty was so trivial as to fall into what has been described as a residual category of cases for which striking off is not an appropriate penalty.”
Dennison, who is currently joint managing partner at Manchester firm Dennison Greer Solicitors, was formerly a partner with Rowe Cohen, which had vetted claims for TAG.
In November 2009 he was fined £23,500 by the SDT for dishonestly concealing his part-ownership of Legal Report Services (LRS), a company that supplied medical reports for Rowe Cohen clients under the TAG scheme – a deal he arranged.
At the CoA he challenged the Divisional Court’s ruling in a matter brought by the SRA against the SDT concerning whether he should be struck off for his conduct.
The SRA argued that the fine imposed was not harsh enough given that he had brought the profession into disrepute.
Sitting in the Divisional Court Lord Justice Toulson and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones ruled in favour of the SRA.
Dennison then instructed Pinsent Masons associate Hayley Goldstone to challenge the decision, bringing in 4 New Square’s Simon Monty QC. Responding, the SRA instructed Fountain Court’s Michael McLaren QC.
Monty contended that the Divisional Court failed to give proper weight to the decision of the tribunal, which had been of the view that it was not necessary to stop Dennison from practising. He argued that the tribunal had been in a good position to assess the risk to the public if Dennison was allowed to continue in practice.
The SDT said it had not struck him off because several years had passed since the matter complained of, because Dennison had made a £400,000 repayment to his former partners, and because the public would not be at risk should he continue practising.
According to the CoA: “None of them in my view carries a great deal of weight.”
The time factor, the court said, “does little to detract from the gravity of the conduct”.
This was only compounded by the fact that Dennison was told by the Law Society to disclose his interests in LRS. Furthermore, the payment to the partners served to show there were valid claims to be made against him.
The judgment continued: “The fact that the tribunal was satisfied that no member of the public would be put at risk if he continued to practise likewise does little to ensure confidence in the profession, since it would tend to reinforce the perception that the profession was willing to tolerate seriously dishonest practitioners.”
Dismissing the appeal in its entirety the court concluded: “The Divisional Court was conscious of the respect due to the decision of a professional tribunal of this kind, particularly one composed of such experienced members, but having considered the arguments in detail it concluded that none of them justified the tribunal’s decision, which it found to be clearly inappropriate.”