Solicitor struck off to ‘maintain the reputation of the solicitor profession’
The High Court has ordered for a solicitor, Mr Patrick Enright, to be struck off the Roll of Solicitors, as a result of fraudulent activity carried out by him in 1994. The Law Society had brought the application following a finding by the Disciplinary Tribunal that Mr Enright was not a fit person to be a member of the solicitor’s profession and should be struck off.
Mr Enright had become a solicitor in 1986, and from 1988 until 1994 had worked for an American medical insurance company.
During 1994, Mr Enright on ten occasions forged medial insurance claims on behalf of a fictitious person, payment for which were to be sent to a postbox.
The gardaí were alerted and on investigating the postbox, intercepted Mr Enright’s brother collecting the cheques.
Following prolonged legal proceedings, Mr Enright eventually pled guilty to all ten offences in 2013.
During sentencing, the trial judge commented that “this is an extremely serious case… at least in respect of Mr Patrick Enright, who was a solicitor at the time, a member of the legal profession. And the whole essence of the running of the courts is dependent on having honest solicitors.”
Between leaving the insurance company and being sentenced, Mr Enright had been engaged in private practice in Castleisland.
It was noted by the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Kelly, that during that 20 year period, Mr Enright had conducted his practice with complete propriety, and had placed before the Law Society and the Disciplinary Tribunal 100 testimonials from previous clients attesting to his good conduct.
In 2015, the Law Society brought an application for an enquiry before the Disciplinary Tribunal.
Mr Enright attended before the Tribunal and admitted the offences, but pled mitigation and highlighted the testimonials from former clients.
However, the Disciplinary Tribunal made a finding of misconduct, to the effect that Mr Enright was not a fit person to be a member of the solicitors’ profession and that his name should be struck off the Roll of Solicitors.
Before the High Court, counsel for Mr Enright argued that striking him off would be inappropriate, citing Law Society of Ireland v. Colm Carroll and Henry Colley, which involved a deliberate and elaborate scheme of tax evasion which nonetheless led to a lesser sanction than striking off the solicitors in question.
Counsel on behalf of Mr Enright stated that a number of the matters that were taken into consideration in that case were apposite to the present one.
Mr Enright made admissions, owned up, repaid the monies, created no threat to the Compensation Fund and had, for in excess of 20 years, practised as a solicitor without criticism. There was no likelihood of the repetition of the events and so a suspension or other restriction was the appropriate penalty.
However, the Law Society distinguished Mr Enright’s case from that of Carroll and Colley, on the grounds that Mr Enright had actually been convicted of a criminal offence of dishonesty, and the Disciplinary Tribunal had specifically expressed a view that he should be struck off, which had not been the case in Carroll and Colley.
The Law Society relied on Bolton v. Law Society 1 WLR 512, in which the English judge Sir Thomas Bingham M.R. stated that the most serious lapses from the required high standard for solicitors were those that involved dishonesty. In such cases, Bingham M.R. found that the solicitor must almost invariably be struck off.
The Law Society also relied on the Irish case of Carroll v. the Law Society of Ireland IEHC 199 in which Finnegan P. noted with approval Bingham M.R.’s judgment, and the English case of the Law Society v. Emeana & Ors. EWHC 2130 which also cited Bolton v. Law Society as containing the essential principles.
Mr Justice Kelly concluded that there was no need to suspend Mr Enright or strike him off in order to prevent repetition of the offences, or to punish him.
It was accepted that he had paid his debt to society, and that it was unlikely that there would be any repetition of the offence.
Nonetheless, it was found to be necessary to strike him off, in order to maintain “the reputation of the solicitors’ profession ‘as one in which every member, of whatever standing, may be trusted to the ends of the earth’(per Bingham M.R.).”
It was noted that while counsel for Mr Enright had argued that to strike him off would be to consign him to unemployability, this was not necessarily so, as solicitors could occasionally apply for a restoration of their name on the Roll.
“It would be unwise to indicate the circumstances in which such an order might be made, but normally a passage of time would occur subsequent to the strike-off order and other conditions would have to be met. A strike-off order is not in all cases one which continues in perpetuity.”
Mr Justice Kelly therefore gave effect to the recommendation of the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Law Society and ordered that Mr. Enright’s name be struck off the Roll of Solicitors.