Solicitor claims discrimination against SRA over epic 15-year dispute


An employment tribunal has struck out most elements of an extraordinary discrimination case brought by a solicitor against the SRA.

Michael Casson, now 67, brought claims of age, race and religious discrimination against the regulator over disciplinary proceedings going back more than 15 years.

Following a two-day preliminary hearing at the Birmingham Employment Tribunal in February, Employment Judge McCluggage struck out all complaints by Casson, except for one relating to the SRA’s pursuit of costs against him.

The matter is now likely to go to a final hearing, although the judge suggested the allegation raised was on the ‘little prospects side of fanciful’ and required Casson to pay a £500 deposit for the ground of complaint to continue.

SRA

The tribunal heard that the dispute started when probate and property solicitor Casson’s former firm was subject to allegations of inadequate professional services from two clients, and an adjudicator from the SRA’s effective predecessor, the Legal Complaints Service, ordered him to pay around £5,500 compensation in total.

He did not comply with the orders, and in 2007 the SRA brought charges before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal alleging professional misconduct. It found the allegations proved and reprimanded Casson, ordering him to pay the costs of proceedings. The tribunal also ruled that adjudication awards were still payable despite Casson having been made bankrupt.

The matter did not end there: in 2009 the High Court rejected Casson’s appeal and awarded costs against him. Three years later the SRA served notices of detailed assessment in respect of the costs orders, although it was not until 2018 that a detailed assessment procedure restarted. The SRA acknowledged this delay was ‘significant’ and the judge noted that the time taken was ‘unusually long’.

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Finally, in January 2020, Deputy Master Campbell undertook the detailed assessment of costs but with enforcement stayed. The tribunal claim was received in April 2020.

Casson brought discrimination claims in respect of the adjudicators’ decisions, the prosecution before the SDT, the SRA opposing his appeal to the High Court, the SRA pursuing the costs order arising out of that appeal, and the failure to advise his disgruntled clients to pursue his professional indemnity insurers. The tribunal found all complaints except one were struck out as barred pursuant to section 120 (7) of the Equality Act, ruling that it did not have jurisdiction to hear a claim against a qualification body where there had been a statutory right of appeal available. On the issue of the enforcement of the costs order, the judge said the detailed assessment had been ‘long, drawn out and subject to acknowledged delays’ on the part of the SRA, and he could conceive of a tribunal finding that a litigant’s personal characteristics may have influenced the successful party’s attitude to this issue.



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