The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society (JLD) has welcomed the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) in the case of Susan Helen Orton that her mental ill-health represented exceptional circumstances which warranted a suspension instead of a strike-off. The JLD has repeatedly called for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the SDT to give greater weight to the impact of mental illness when making decisions to prosecute and when making determinations on conduct issues.
The JLD considers that some high-profile SRA decisions to prosecute junior lawyers in recent years – and subsequent SDT determinations – have failed to give sufficient recognition to the substantial impact of mental health issues on professionals. The JLD is concerned particularly regarding junior lawyers who are new to the specific pressures of the legal industry, and the harsh finality of decisions to strike off.
Mental ill-health is rife at the junior end of the legal profession. In 2019, the JLD conducted a resilience and wellbeing survey which found that almost half (48%) of the 1,803 respondents had experienced mental ill-health in the month before completing the survey. This is significantly higher than the general population – where the NHS reports that one in four adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any given year.
The JLD hopes the SDT continues to be as conscious of the significant impact of such issues in future determinations, and that the SRA takes note of the Orton outcome when considering whether to prosecute other junior lawyers in similar circumstances in the future.