Law Society of Ireland v Corrigan

JudgeMr. Justice David Barniville
Judgment Date26 June 2023
Neutral Citation[2023] IEHC 389
CourtHigh Court
Docket Number[2023 No. 26 S.A.] [2021/DT08]

In the Matter of Rody Kelly Corrigan, A Solicitor Previously Practising as Rody Kelly Corrigan Solicitors at the Glass House, 11 Coke Street, Smithfield, Dublin 7

And in the Matter of the Solicitors Acts 1984 – 2015

Law Society of Ireland
Rody Kelly Corrigan

[2023] IEHC 389

[2023 No. 26 S.A.]




JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice David Barniville, President of the High Court, delivered on the 26 th June, 2023


1. Introduction


2. Summary of Decision


3. Factual Background


4. Report of Authorised Person


5. Meeting of the Society's Regulation of Practice Committee


6. Inquiry by the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal


7. The Tribunal's Decision and Recommended Sanctions


8. The Society's Application to the Court


9. Decision on Sanction


(a) Relevant Legal Principles


(b) Application of Applicable Principles and Decision


1. Introduction

. This is my judgment on an application by the Law Society of Ireland (the “Society”) for various orders in relation to the respondent solicitor (the “Solicitor”) pursuant to s. 8 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1960, as substituted by s. 18 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994, and as amended by s. 10 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 2002 (the “1960 Act (as amended)”).


. At issue in this application is whether, in the case of admitted misconduct and dishonesty by the Solicitor, the court should impose the sanction recommended by the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal (the “Tribunal”) in its report in relation to the Solicitor or that sought by the Society.


. The Tribunal recommended that the following sanctions should be imposed on the Solicitor:

  • (i) That he not be permitted to practise as a sole practitioner or in partnership, that he be permitted only to practise as an assistant solicitor, in the employment and under the direct control and supervision of another solicitor of at least ten years' standing to be approved in advance by the Society;

  • (ii) That he not be permitted to have access to client funds; and

  • (iii) That he pay the sum of €1,152.00 as a contribution towards the Society's costs before the Tribunal.


. The Tribunal did not recommend that the Solicitor's name be struck off the Roll of Solicitors. The Society has contended on this application that the Solicitor is not a fit person to be on the Roll of Solicitors and that his name should be struck off the Roll. That is the only issue between the parties on this application.


. The Solicitor has agreed to pay the sum which the Tribunal directed that he pay by way of contribution towards the Society's costs before the Tribunal (€1,152.00) as well as the measured costs of the Society in respect of its application to the High Court (€3,554.00 (to include stamp duty)).

2. Summary of Decision

. Having heard the respective submissions made on behalf of the Society and on behalf of the Solicitor at a hearing on 12 th June, 2023, and being satisfied that it is open to me to depart from the sanctions recommended by the Tribunal and to impose a sanction falling short of that proposed by the Society, I indicated that, because of the very particular circumstances of this case (upon which I will elaborate later), I was inclined to impose a sanction which would involve a period of suspension of the Solicitor from the Roll combined with restrictions thereafter of the type recommended by the Tribunal. However, I decided to reserve judgment as I required some time to decide on the appropriate level of suspension.


. Having now had that opportunity, I am satisfied that the appropriate period of suspension is twelve months from the date the Society's application was issued, on 27 th April, 2023. The period the Solicitor's name will be suspended from the Roll will, therefore, expire on 24 th April, 2024. In the event that the Solicitor wishes to practise as a solicitor following that period of suspension, he will need to apply for a practising certificate. The last practising certificate held by the Solicitor was for the practice year ending 31 st December, 2019. The restrictions recommended by the Tribunal will apply if and when the Solicitor resumes practice after the period of suspension. Those restrictions will apply to every practising certificate obtained by the Solicitor after the period of suspension.


. I have also decided that it would be appropriate to include in the order that I propose to make, a provision that the Society would have liberty immediately to re-enter the proceedings to seek to have the Solicitor's name struck off the Roll in the event of any breach of the restrictions or any further act of dishonesty.


. I am satisfied that these sanctions fully take into account the required legal principles set out in the case law and that they are proportionate. In deciding on these sanctions, I have taken into account the very particular circumstances of the case. While acts of dishonesty, such as those admitted by the Solicitor in this case, will almost invariably lead to a strike off, I am satisfied that, due to the very exceptional circumstances in this case, a strike off would not be a proportionate sanction to impose.

3. Factual Background

. The Solicitor qualified and was admitted to and enrolled on the Roll of Solicitors in 2004. Having practised as a solicitor in partnership with another solicitor for a number of years, he worked for a short time as a consultant in another firm before setting up his own practice.


. On 10th July, 2019, the Society appointed Rory O'Neill, Chartered Accountant, as an authorised person, within the meaning of s.76(10) of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994, for the purposes of carrying out an investigation into whether the Solicitor was in compliance with the Solicitors Accounts Regulations 2014 ( S.I. No. 516 of 2014) (the “Regulations”) and with provisions of s. 66 of the Solicitors Act 1954 (as substituted by s. 76 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994).


. The Solicitor was informed, by letter dated 10 th July, 2019, that Mr. O'Neill would commence his examination at 9:30am the following morning (11 th July, 2019). The Solicitor was requested to ensure that certain matters were attended to for the purposes of the examination to be carried out by Mr. O'Neill.


. The investigation was commenced following receipt of a complaint by the Society on the morning of 10 th July, 2019, from a client of the Solicitor (“Client A”) who had engaged the Solicitor to act for him in the purchase of an apartment in Dublin. Although Client A had provided the balance of purchase monies to the Solicitor in order to close the sale of the apartment, the monies paid over by the Solicitor to the vendor's solicitors were €50,000 less than the sum due.


. The Solicitor met with Mr. O'Neill early the following morning of 11 th July, 2019. He immediately disclosed to Mr. O'Neill that there was a deficit on his client account and he explained how that deficit had arisen. He had taken the proceeds of settlement of a case for another client (“Client B”) (€17,500) in order to pay mounting debts, including his professional indemnity insurance premium and professional and domestic expenses. In addition, the Solicitor wrongfully withheld €7,380 in fees due to senior counsel which were included in the costs paid in respect of the settlement of Client B's case. He then used the monies given by Client A for the purposes of closing the sale on the Dublin apartment (including stamp duty, registration fees and search fees) for the unauthorised purpose of repaying the €17,500 taken from Client B. In total, the Solicitor admitted a deficit of €64,742.50, including the monies misappropriated from Client A, and withheld from senior counsel.


. The Solicitor disclosed all of these matters to Mr. O'Neill on the morning of 11 th July, 2019. He explained that he did not have a gambling addiction or anything of that nature, and that the monies were taken to pay debts. He expected that he would be able to reimburse the monies. The Solicitor handed over Client A's file to Mr. O'Neill who agreed to make contact with him to arrange for another solicitor to take up the file and close the sale. He agreed to pass over ongoing files relating to personal injury cases and files for immigration cases to another solicitor.


. The Solicitor was extremely apologetic for what had occurred. He explained he had significant arrears on his mortgage and outlined his family issues. He was the sole earner in his family. His wife had been diagnosed with a life limiting serious neurodegenerative disease. He and his wife have five male children, ranging in ages from 12 to 30, the eldest of which is married. One of his sons has cerebral palsy and has increased care needs. He explained that things were very difficult financially at home. He felt that, with mounting debts, he had nowhere to turn and initially took the monies from the settlement of Client B's case and that, in turn, led to him taking funds from Client A to reimburse Client B. The Solicitor agreed immediately to close his client account, to obtain all outstanding bank statements, to return his practising certificate, and to provide Mr. O'Neill with a copy of the correspondence he had exchanged with senior counsel in relation to the outstanding fees. He also agreed to consider and to attempt to arrange the sourcing of monies to clear the shortfall, but noted that he did not personally have the resources to do so as of that time. He also agreed to arrange for the transfer of his files to another solicitor. The Solicitor fully complied with all of Mr. O'Neill's requirements at that stage. He also disclosed, at a meeting of the Society's Regulation of Practice...

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