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England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions

You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions >> Onwuka, Re Solicitor's Act 1974 No 3 of 2002 [2002] EWCA Civ 994 (2 July 2002)
URL: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2002/994.html
Cite as: [2002] EWCA Civ 994

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Neutral Citation Number: [2002] EWCA Civ 994


Royal Courts of Justice
London WC2A 2LL
Tuesday 2 July 2002

B e f o r e :



NO 3 of 2002


(Computer Aided Transcription of the Palantype Notes of
Smith Bernal Reporting, 190 Fleet Street
London EC4A 2AG
Tel: 020 7421 4040 Fax: 020 7831 8838
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)


MR ONWUKA appeared in person.
MR D DALE appeared on behalf of the Law Society.



Crown Copyright ©

  1. LORD PHILLIPS, MR: This is an appeal by Mr Onwuka against the Law Society's decision to cancel his student membership of the Society, pursuant to Regulation 32 of the Training Regulations 1990, on the ground that the Society is not satisfied as to Mr Onwuka's character and suitability to become a solicitor.
  2. Mr Onwuka is a trainee solicitor who has completed 12 months of a training contract. He spent the first part of his training at Ann Thomas & Partners, Willesden. In November 1999 he received a conviction for criminal damage, for which he was sentenced to a fine of £50 and 50 hours community service. He did not notify the Law Society of this conviction. On 11 September 2000, Mr Onwuka received a further conviction for harassment, unlawful eviction and common assault. He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, of which he served seven weeks. He represented himself at the hearing but was represented by counsel at the sentencing hearing. He says that on that occasion he instructed his counsel to inform the Law Society of his conviction. However, the Law Society was not informed of that conviction until it was drawn to their attention by a letter written by DI Campbell of the Metropolitan Police Service on 28 October 2000. He wrote to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors with the following account:
  3. "On 4 April 2000 Mr Onwuka was charged with Burglary, Harrassment, Unlawful Eviction and Common Assault. He denied these charges, and in July a trial took place at Snaresbrook Crown Court.
    Mr Onwuka was subsequently found guilty of Harrassment, Unlawful Eviction, and Common Assault and was sentenced on 11 September to six months imprisonment. These offences and indeed his previous conviction for common assault relate to his involvement with 171 Belgrave Road, Walthamstow, E17 where Mr Onwuka lets rooms.
    It is pertinent to note that Mr Onwuka has indicated he intends to appeal against his conviction."
  4. Mr Onwuka told me that he did not appeal because the transcript was sent to the wrong address and time for appealing elapsed before he had a chance to consider it. Continuing with the letter:
  5. "The purpose of this letter is to make you aware of his position, and indeed explain the method used in one of the offences.
    In early 1999 Mr Onwuka let one of his rooms to a man named Mr Ogoazi. Mr Ogoazi is an asylum seeker, and was housed by the Waltham Forest Asylum Seekers Team. He was provided with a Tenancy Agreement with the rent being paid monthly by the above team. Over the ensuing months he and Mr Onwuka had disagreements. In fact it is clear that Mr Onwuka did want Mr Ogoazi to vacate his room, and he started a campaign of Harassment to assist in forcing Mr Ogoazi to leave.
    Mr Ogoazi was actually quite happy to stay at the address, and consulted the Asylum team, who told him to stay, unless he was directed otherwise. It appears that at no point did Mr Onwuka take any legal steps to evict Mr Ogoazi despite offers of assistance from his employer.
    Evidence indicates that he despatched two letters to Mr Ogoazi which were threatening and abusive causing the recipient a great deal of distress. It is also pertinent to note that Mr Onwuka communicated with the tenant using A Thomas & Co letter headed paper. I have enclosed copies for your perusal and records. Suffice it to say that the principal solicitor at his office had no knowledge of these letters, or the replies, which Mr Onwuka had concealed from her. Mr Onwuka was not authorised to send any letters from the offices without the principal having first authorised them."
  6. The first letter to which Inspector Campbell referred was written on 15 November 1999 and stated:
  7. "We have been instructed by our client, Mr Onwuka, regarding your behaviour in his house and to take the necessary measure that is appropriate. We are informed that you engaged yourself in a dubious act of deception and falsification. He said that you bought from British Telecom a BT DECT FAX in his name and have failed to pay BT the sum of £316.00 due.
    We consider this act to be criminal and obnoxious. As a result, our client has instructed us to give you notice to vacate his room by 12pm on 26 November 1999. If you fail to vacate the room, our client has instructed us to take the following measures:-
    1) We will report you to the Immigration Enforcement Unit, for your removal from this country. Our client considers you to be a Bogus Asylum Seeker, who is not fit to be granted asylum in this country.
    2) We will pass this letter and information to the London Borough of Waltham Forest, Asylum Seekers Unit, informing them that you are a Bogus Asylum Seeker.
    3) We will pass your record to our Debt Collection Unit for enforcement of the £316.00 debt from you.
    4) We are going to register this debt with our Court Bailiff who will call to recover this debt from you, wherever you may be.
    Finally, you are to vacate 171 Belgrade Road on 26 November, 1999 at 12pm. Failure to comply, will result in your paying a price.
    If you need assistance we will recommend that you seek advice from any source of your choice."
  8. The subsequent letter was a simple follow-up ending:
  9. "This is the final notice for you to move out and will not be given to you again."
  10. On 22 March 2000 Ann Thomas, of Ann Thomas & Partners, wrote to Mr Onwuka saying that she had been telephoned by the police who had stated that:
  11. ".... you told them that you were still a Trainee Solicitor with this firm. I am writing this letter to clarify the position.
    I had been concerned for some time that you were not following the requirements of the manual in many respects, eg that a Trainee Solicitor should not conduct his own case but should refer all new instructions to me before the end of the week, that all outgoing letters must be approved by me before being engrossed. I have discussed my concerns with you on various occasions.
    Then two matters were brought to my notice which were very serious and on which I had to take immediate action. One was the Poulis case in which you had represented the client in the Magistrates Court on two occasions when you had no right of audience instead of instructing Counsel. The other was an investigation by the Leyton Police about a letter in threatening terms sent to one of your tenants on this firm's headed notepaper. The letter claimed that you were a client of this firm but you had not mentioned the case to me and there was no file in this office and you had to get copies of the letters you had sent out from your home. This was a very serious matter and I felt that I had no option but to dismiss you summarily."
  12. The letter went on to say that on representations from other members of staff, Miss Thomas had decided to take Mr Onwuka back pending advice, but that he had failed to contact her.
  13. On 11 January 2001, the Law Society wrote to Mr Onwuka to bring to his attention their powers under Regulation 32. The letter asked for a statement of the events leading up to his conviction, details of any other conviction and an explanation of why he, himself, had not informed the Law Society of his conviction.
  14. Mr Onwuka wrote a detailed reply which I should read because it represents the case that he has advanced in relation to his conviction at all stages, including his appeal today.
  15. "Thank you for your letter of 11 January 2001, about a criminal conviction concerning me. I was the one on 9 October 2000, who asked my Counsel to inform you. I gave the instruction to inform you, and could have informed you in any circumstance.
    This is what happened. I rented one of my rooms to my fellow Nigerian man. To my greatest surprise, I did not know that he was a very, very fraudulent man, full of evil.
    (1) As soon as he moved into the house, he started committing fraud, by using different names to order things from catalogue companies and he would not pay for them.
    (2) He fraudulently used my own name to buy a fax machine from BT on 16 July 1999. When it was delivered, he took the fax. When I reported the matter to the Police, he took the fax and sold it and till today refused to pay BT back their money, which resulted BT to cut off my tenants telephone line.
    (3) He sexually assaulted one of my tenants, beat her, broke her ribs and shoulder and almost killed a 56 year old woman, for no apparent reason of which he was convicted.
    (5) [sic] He engaged in stealing other tenants things in the house, for example, he was stealing their letters, whenever their letters were delivered whilst at work.
    (6) On 18/29 January 2000 he assaulted me.
    When all these things were happening, in order not to be accused of taking the law into my own hand, I went to the Police on 5 occasions, to report the matter. The Police told me that they would not get themselves involved, that they do not get involve in landlord and tenant matters as it was a civil matter. But the day he went and lied to them, the police suddenly realised that I had unlawfully evicted him, which I did not. The London Borough of Waltham Forest knew when he was threatening to burn my house down, to kill me and my tenants. They in turn offered to re-house him on 3 occasions, he refused to go, but instead chose to terrorise me and my tenants.
    I did not assault him, instead, himself, his girl friend and a white male colleague attacked me on 29 January 2000, and nearly killed me.
    I did not commit any criminal act against him, but the Police in their act to pervert the cause [sic] of justice fabricated evidence against me. I did not do him anything wrong, neither did I offend any one in any way.
    The person who came and gave evidence that I assaulted him was a girl, who left my house, and Police went and asked her to come and testify against me, despite the fact that she was not present when the incident happened.
    I bought this house in 1999. Before I bought the house, I had a big problem, with the occupying tenant who did not want to move out. On 24 December 1998, when the court gave him notice to move out, I went there he attacked me. This caused a lot of problem, with the consent of my vendor we removed him from the house.
    The Police instead charged me for criminal damage of the house, which I was buying, when I did not damage any one's property. I went to court, a Judge told the Police that I did not commit any criminal act under the 1971 Criminal Damage Act.
    Police again persuaded my vendor to tell the court that I damaged her property. I was convicted for damaging a house that I had finished the purchase on 19 September 1998. My vendor approached me on 5 January 2000, to tell me that the Police asked her to testify against me after I had been convicted for damaging my own house.
    Now this matter is before the court of appeal, hopefully for an appeal. What happen is too much to tell you in this letter. I have about 22 tenants, there is no trouble between me and them, it was only a fraudulent Nigerian, who came along with his evil character to tarnish my image. I am open to appear before you at any time to defend myself, whenever you want to call me.
    I represented myself at the trial. The Jury for 2 days could not find me guilty, because the evidence before them, clearly informed them that I did not commit any criminal offence against anyone. Once again a Judge, who suppose to be neutral, sided with the Prosecution, and blatantly asked the Jury to find me guilty. The Jury returned reluctantly a majority verdict on 10-2, because of the Judge's intimidation."
  16. Mr Onwuka was interviewed by the Law Society in February 2001. At that interview he repeated the matters set out in this letter. According to the adjucator, he denied having written the letters to his tenant and said that Ann Thomas had authorised one of his colleagues to write them.
  17. Mr Onwuka has informed me that there was a misunderstanding and that what he told the adjudicator was not that the colleague, Mr Beggs, had written the letter but that he had witnessed what had occurred and could testify in his favour.
  18. Following Mr Onwuka's interview, he wrote to the Law Society complaining that the adjudicator had not been impartial and had refused to let him tell his whole story. He repeated that complaint before me. The Law Society's decision was deferred pending further investigations. The Law Society made repeated efforts, by letter, to obtain Ann Thomas' comments on Mr Onwuka's version of events, but she did not reply. In the circumstances, the Law Society decided to call Mr Onwuka for a second interview before a different adjudicator explaining to him that its further investigations had proved inconclusive. The further interview took place on 10 October 2001. Mr Onwuka maintained that he innocent of the charges of which he had been convicted and that he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice. On this occasion, Mr Onwuka admitted that he had been party to writing the letter to his tenant which I have quoted. He said that he did so with the assistance of Miss Thomas who helped him with the draft.
  19. The adjudicator was unable to accept Mr Onwuka's evidence that, in effect, he was the victim of these events. He found that there was clear evidence of harassment in the letter to the tenant. The adjudicator found that Mr Onwuka did not understand the severity of his actions and why they had led to his convictions, nor did he show any remorse. He recorded not being satisfied that Mr Onwuka showed the character and suitability required for a career as a solicitor and decided that his enrolment as a student should be cancelled.
  20. On 14 November Mr Onwuka wrote to the Law Society asking for a review of that decision. He was interviewed on 12 December 2001. His grounds for attacking the decision were, first, that he did not have a fair hearing at both the February and October interviews. The adjudicator rejected that allegation and found that Mr Onwuka had had every opportunity to present his case. Secondly, Mr Onwuka complained that the Law Society had failed to investigate the case properly. The adjudicator found that the Law Society had simply indicated that its further investigations had proved inconclusive, although every effort had been made to contact Ann Thomas. The adjudicator also found that, quite apart from Ann Thomas' version of events, there was ample evidence to support the finding that Mr Onwuka's student enrolment should be terminated. The review adjudicator commented that Mr Onwuka's contention that the letter to the tenant was written together with Miss Thomas, did not absolve him from culpability. He also noted Mr Onwuka's breach of obligation to disclose his prior conviction for criminal damage to the Law Society. Mr Onwuka said that that was because he was awaiting an appeal, but the adjudicator did not find that a satisfactory explanation. He found that, although Mr Onwuka may have been provoked by his tenant, he showed a lack of insight into the impropriety of his conduct and little, if any, remorse. The adjudicator found that, notwithstanding his representations, Mr Onwuka was not suitable to be a solicitor and his appeal was dismissed.
  21. Before me Mr Onwuka has rehearsed his version of events that led to his conviction. As I explained to him, I do not sit here as an appeal court to review that conviction. That conviction stands on his record, as does the earlier conviction. The gravamen of his submission was, however, that he did not have a fair hearing before the Law Society. He said more than once that the Law Society was under a duty, under Article 6 of the Human Rights Act, to hear both sides of the story and that to reach conclusions adverse to him without obtaining evidence from Ann Thomas and hearing what she had to say was unfair. He added that he believed there were disciplinary proceedings against Ann Thomas. He said that it was essential that the Law Society should have decided precisely what happened in Ann Thomas' office.
  22. Mr Onwuka said that he had been unfairly treated at the interview in October. Irrelevant questions had been asked which amounted to victimisation. He says that in December the adjudication was aggressive, unfair and attempted to provoke him.
  23. My task is to decide whether there is evidence that the procedure is unfair, and to consider whether it could be said that the decision that was reached could not be justified on the evidence before the adjudicators.
  24. In my judgment, Mr Onwuka's main ground of complaint is misconceived. The decision against him was not based on Ann Thomas evidence; on the contrary, the adjudicators proceeded on the basis that his version of how the letter came to be written was true. The fact remains that he was party to writing that aggressive letter, that he has been twice convicted, that he failed to disclose the earlier conviction to the Law Society, even if he asked his counsel to inform the Law Society of the later conviction. There are no valid grounds for attacking the procedure.
  25. Having regard to this conclusion, I can see no ground for finding that the decision reached in his case was other than a proper one and his appeal must be dismissed.

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URL: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2002/994.html