Suspended solicitor seeks to block inquiry into alleged misconduct

The High Court suspended Mr O’Callaghan’s practising certificate in July 2018.
Suspended solicitor seeks to block inquiry into alleged misconduct

Judgment has been reserved in an action taken by a suspended Co Roscommon solicitor seeking to block an inquiry into a company’s allegations of professional misconduct against him.

Declan O’Callaghan, who had practised at Kilrain O’Callaghan, Pound Street, Ballaghaderreen, claims the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) acted beyond its powers in how it conducted its inquiry into his alleged conduct in the sale of lands in Co Mayo some 15 years ago.

Mr Justice Anthony Barr said on Wednesday that he would give his judgment at a later date.

In his judicial review application, Mr O’Callaghan seeks a High Court order restraining the SDT from continuing its inquiry into a separate complaint made by a Co Mayo concrete product manufacturer, Nirvanna Property Holdings Ltd.

The complaint, made by Nirvanna’s Tom and Sean Fleming, alleged that Mr O’Callaghan had purported to act for both vendor and purchaser in a land sale where there was a clear conflict of interest. It is also claimed that he provided inadequate professional services.

'Wrong footing'

Mr O’Callaghan, who denies the company’s allegations against him, initiated judicial review proceedings against the SDT, with Nirvanna on notice, after the hearing of the complaint was adjourned in February of last year.

Counsel for Mr O’Callaghan, John Shortt SC, told the High Court the tribunal “got off on the wrong footing” from the outset, as it allegedly never established whether Tom and Sean Fleming had authority from Nirvanna to make the complaint. He submitted that the SDT did not follow its procedures in ensuring the complaint was brought “with some authority”.

The court also heard Nirvanna had been represented at the tribunal on February 11th, 2020, by Mr Fleming, but this was objected to by Mr O’Callaghan’s lawyer on the basis a limited company cannot be represented by its managing director or other officers. An adjournment was given after Mr Fleming requested time to seek a solicitor for the company.

Mr Shortt maintained that Mr Fleming had no standing, as a director of the company, to seek the adjournment.

Ailbhe O’Neill BL, for the SDT, said the issues Mr O’Callaghan has raised in his action would be more appropriately addressed through a statutory appeal following the completion of the inquiry.

She said the SDT would not be minded to abandon the proceedings into allegations of “very serious misconduct” due to Mr Fleming’s technical standing in an adjournment application. Ms O’Neill said there is “no reality” to the inquiry being stopped and said it is “only appropriate” that it be allowed to proceed.

The High Court suspended Mr O’Callaghan’s practising certificate in July 2018.

In November 2019, at a separate inquiry before the SDT, he admitted professional misconduct arising from unlawfully retaining client funds concerning a house sale and was told to pay €10,000 compensation to the Law Society.

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