Badge of dishonour: parking illegally can get you more than a ticket
Using a blue badge unlawfully
A practising solicitor, who had caring responsibilities for a disabled relative, was struck off for unlawfully using a disabled parking badge (blue badge) to park closer to his workplace.
The blue badge was issued to a relative and could only be legitimately deployed for parking when the car was being used to transport the badge holder.
The solicitor dropped the relative off at a location and then drove to his office where he parked on a single yellow line during restricted hours displaying the blue badge.
Two parking investigators noticed the solicitor exiting his vehicle, cautioned him and asked where the badge holder was. When the solicitor stated he had dropped the relative off some distance away the blue badge was confiscated.
The investigators had previously seen the solicitor’s vehicle parked in the same street in a restricted area, where they observed him sitting in the driver's seat with the badge on display on the dashboard.
As they approached the vehicle, the solicitor removed the blue badge from the dashboard, and was then seen to replace it when they left.
The solicitor was found to have used the parking badge, with intent to deceive, at least eight times between June and August 2018, resulting in a conviction in the Crown Court and a fine of £1,500.
The SDT finding
Representing himself, the solicitor submitted to the SDT that he had made an ‘honest mistake’, but the panel rejected this and found nothing to justify a lesser sanction than a strike-off.
The ruling added: “The blue badge system was designed for the assistance and protection of vulnerable people and repeated abuse of that system was a serious matter.”
The solicitor parked his car in a disabled parking space and displayed a blue badge which he was not entitled to use and did so with intent to deceive.
In doing so, the SRA asserted that he breached either or both of:
- principle 2: “You must ... act with integrity"
- principle 6: “You must ... behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services”
The tribunal said it saw no distinction between the concepts of deception and dishonesty.
The SDT also heard that the sentencing judge at the Crown Court said the solicitor had done a “stupid, stupid thing” and committed the error of “being lazy and being idle”.
The SDT ordered that the solicitor be struck off the roll and pay costs of £1,000.
The solicitor appealed the tribunal decision in the High Court submitting that it had denied him a fair hearing by rejecting an application for an adjournment when he could not find a lawyer to represent him.
The judge said: “There is no evidence to support the submission that the appellant was denied a fair hearing and suffered injustice. It is common for solicitors to represent themselves at the tribunal, and a practising solicitor, such as the appellant, was capable of doing so effectively.”
The court backed the SDT’s decision, and the appeal was dismissed.
In addition to the £1,000 costs ordered by the SDT, the judge ordered that the solicitor pay the SRA’s £18,000 costs of the appeal.
Your ethical obligations
The case demonstrates the serious consequences of a breach of SRA Principles and highlights the overarching high-level standards of ethical behaviour expected by solicitors, even in their private life.
The SDT’s guidance note on sanctions (10th edition), states:
“Some of the most serious misconduct involves dishonesty, whether or not leading to criminal proceedings and criminal penalties. A finding that an allegation of dishonesty has been proved will almost invariably lead to striking off, save in exceptional circumstances (see Solicitors Regulation Authority v Sharma  EWHC 2022 (Admin)).”
The SDT has unlimited powers to fine, suspend or strike off a solicitor where they are found to have behaved unethically.
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