The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has found that a solicitor convicted of a second drink-driving offence lacked integrity and was in breach of the SRA Principles 2011.
James Oram was an in-house commercial property solicitor employed by Christchurch and East Dorset District Council. Mr Oram, who admitted to having a problem with alcohol, was convicted of drink-driving on 9 February 2016, fined £800, disqualified from driving for 20 months and ordered to pay costs of the Crown Prosecution Service of £100. That first conviction did not give rise to any action by the Regulator. However, on 17 October 2018, less than a year after his driving licence was restored, Mr Oram was again convicted of drink-driving, fined £700, disqualified from driving for 40 months and ordered to pay Crown Prosecution Service costs of £85.
When Mr Oram applied to renew his solicitor’s Practising Certificate on 30 October 2018, he quite properly disclosed his drink-driving conviction of 17 October 2018. That gave rise to a request by the Authorised Officer for more information regarding the conviction and the provision by Mr Oram of full details. The Authorised Officer then referred Mr Oram to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on 12 September 2019.
It was alleged that Mr Oram had:
- failed to act with integrity (in breach of 2011 Principle 2); and/or
- failed to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in solicitors in the provision of legal services (in breach of 2011 Principle 6).
On 7 April 2020 the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found that both 2011 Principles had been breached. Having heard evidence from Mr Oram, including that he had problems with alcohol and that it was a family health emergency which necessitated his driving after having consumed alcohol, it was decided that on the facts of the case:
- a solicitor with integrity would have reached the conclusion that he had a problem with alcohol after the first offence, would have considered the circumstances and done what was necessary. It was said that one offence might be recognised as a mistake, but having had that experience, Mr Oram offended again. It also confirmed that the Court of Appeal had made it clear that there was a distinction between dishonesty and lack of integrity in regulatory proceedings and that a lack of integrity alone did no constitute dishonesty; and
- notwithstanding evidence of alcohol dependency, a second conviction was not what the public expected of solicitors.
It was said that Mr Oram had direct control of hisdecision to drive and therefore the responsibility for the circumstances givingrise to his misconduct. It was found that there was some impact on thereputation of the legal profession and that such impact was reasonably foreseeable.
Mr Oram was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,500. This decision was made under the SRA Principles 2011 which were in force at the relevant time. However, the SRA Standards and Regulations, which came into effect on 25 November 2019, also contain Principles of integrity and upholding the rule of law, and this decision is therefore a reminder that:
- a finding of a lack of integrity does not require a finding of dishonesty; and
- 2019 Principles 1 [upholding the rule of law], 2 [public trust] and 5 [integrity] apply to the activities of solicitors undertaken by them in their private lives (and outside their practice as members of the profession).
In this case the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal clearly regarded the second conviction and the amount by which Mr Oram exceeded the drink-drive limit as aggravating factors. Nevertheless, the protection of the public and the reputation of the legal profession clearly continue to motivate the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to deal sternly with what might be regarded by some as conduct irrelevant to the practice of law and which is undertaken by solicitors in their private lives.
“The Tribunal felt that the context of the first conviction which led to disqualification from driving led to the conclusion that there was a lack of integrity regarding the conduct leading to the second conviction”.