Thursday, March 26, 2009

Plans for English courts to strike off acquitted solicitors backfire after legal threats

A plan by the Attorney General to allow lawyers in England & Wales who were acquitted of criminal charges, to be struck off by Crown Court judges has been dropped after threats of legal action from the legal profession.

If only such powers existed in Scotland … rather than leaving the Law Society to fumble the profession into regulatory oblivion …

From the Solicitors Journal :

Acquitted solicitors will not be struck off

24 March 2009

A plan to allow Crown Court judges to strike off solicitors acquitted of criminal charges in fraud cases has been quietly dropped by the Attorney general.

Judges will now be permitted to discipline solicitors, including striking them off for up to 15 years, only if they are convicted. The new power will apply to other professionals, such as financial advisers and estate agents, but not barristers.

Lawyers had warned of human rights challenges by defendants if the plan included those acquitted of offences (see “SJ News” 29 July 2008).

In the same way the Attorney general has agreed to limit the Crown Court’s new power to wind up companies to cases where solicitors are convicted.

Responding to a consultation, a spokesman for the Attorney general said that more than half of respondents were opposed to professional disqualification in the case of an acquittal or as an interim measure pending determination of criminal charges.

In a related development, Baroness Scotland issued guidelines last week to prosecutors on plea negotiations in fraud trials. Informal discussions about pleas already take place but do not include sentencing.

“This plea negotiation framework is specifically designed for our criminal justice system and is not about offering discounts, immunity or incentives to fraudsters,” she said.

“It doesn’t require a defendant to assist the prosecution, and is careful to avoid a perception of plea ‘bargaining’ associated with the US. It highlights the importance of judicial discretion to agree, reject or alter the agreed plea, and to impose an appropriate sentence.”

She went on: “In one complex fraud case, the Serious Fraud Office estimated that £1.5m in prosecution costs alone would have been saved through a successful plea negotiation.”

The issuing of guidelines to prosecutors followed a consultation on plea negotiations ( see “SJ News” 8 April 2008 ).

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