Lack of integrity: A Useful Shorthand
Court of Appeal
7 March 2018
The Court of Appeal recently gave judgment in the two joined appeals of Wingate v SRA and SRA v Malins. Both cases turned on the question of what is meant by the term “integrity”. Of course in Malins Mostyn J had controversially gone so far as to say dishonesty and a lack of integrity were synonymous in his view.
The facts of the two cases are of less importance that the court’s analyse of this distinction. Having provided a detailed exploration of the case law relating to both dishonesty and integrity, Jackson LJ was unequivocal in his rejection of Mostyn J’s analysis. The terms are distinct and separate.
Honesty is a “basic moral quality” expected from all of society. It is “grounded upon the shared values of our multi-cultural society” and as a result is readily understood and needs little further elucidation. By contrast he considered that integrity is a broader and “more nebulous concept”. It served as a “useful shorthand to express the higher standards which society expects from professional persons and which the professions expect of their own members”. As a result, whilst it was not amenable to a comprehensive definition, it was clear it denoted “more than mere honesty”. He summarised a number of recent SRA decisions as helpful examples, including:
- A sole practitioner giving the appearance of being in a partnership in a deliberate breach of professional conduct rules; (SRA v Emeana)
- Recklessly but not dishonestly allowing a court to be misled; (SRA v Brett)
- Subordinating the interests of the client to the solicitor’s own financial interests; (SRA v Chan)
- Allowing a firm to become involved in a conveyancing transaction which bears the hallmarks of mortgage fraud. (SRA v Newell-Austin)
The term should not be spread too broadly, however. Professionals are not required to be “paragons of virtue”. Nor is the term necessarily synonymous across different professions since it is “linked to the manner in which the particular profession professes to serve the public”.
Jackson LJ concluded by stressing the respect which should be afforded to a professional panel’s findings on this issue. He observed that just as a jury is well placed to understand the distinction between honest and dishonest conduct in society, so a professional panel is able to appreciate what a lack of integrity means in the context of that particular profession.
Whilst this judgment clears up Mostyn J’s radical analysis, the court offered little by way of practical guidance in sketching out the limits of integrity and honesty. The issue remains particularly fact sensitive and each profession must still feel its way.