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Solicitor struck off for historic harassment convictions

A solicitor who was convicted of harassment offences in Norway at the start of the century, and did not report them to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that while Farid El Diwany had been provoked, his reaction had crossed the line.

Mr El Diwany qualified in 1990 and practised most recently at East London law firm Gawor & Co until three years ago. The firm told the SRA that it dismissed him after he disclosed his criminal record in Norway.

He was first convicted in his absence in 2001, and fined the equivalent of about £900, for harassing a Norwegian woman over a period of years, a decision described the court at the time as lenient. They had become friends in the 1980s but their relationship deteriorated.

According to the case the SRA put before the tribunal, Mr El Diwany made “numerous” telephone calls and sent over 200 letters and cards from England to her and to various individuals and public and private bodies in Norway.

“The letters… contained repeated themes about Ms H’s sex life, abortions, suicide attempts, and her partner’s drug abuse. They also contained references to personal issues relating to her parents.”

One text cited by the court said: “You know, I really wish you were dead and buried, your filthy pervert. It’s hard to imagine anyone more evil and sick than you. I bet you helped kill your own mother. Even after her death you paid her memory to compliment of two abortions. You are a disgusting piece of dirt.”

Two years later, he was convicted again over faxes sent again to various people and organisations with similar information about Ms H, and encouraging recipients to find out more information about her on a website he set up.

The SRA said Mr El Diwany made an “unreserved confession” to the court. He was sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for two years, subject to him removing the website and not contacting Ms H. However, as of the hearing last month, the website was still live.

In 2011, the convictions were mentioned in a libel action the solicitor brought against a Norwegian journalist, a Norwegian police officer and the country’s ministry of justice and police. The High Court struck out the claim.

In his defence, which he conducted himself, Mr El Diwany told the SDT that there were exceptional circumstances which meant it should look behind the convictions.

He insisted that the convictions were unsound, as Ms H was an unreliable witness; he said the letters he sent were in response to being described in the Norwegian press as a “Muslim sex-terrorist suffering from an extreme case of erotic paranoia who had threatened to kill [Ms H] and her family and neighbours”.

The second conviction, he claimed, was the result of duress.

Mr El Diwany characterised his actions as taking “revenge” on Ms H and what she had said about him publicly, and he talked about unpleasant correspondence he received following the press coverage in Norway.

The SDT accepted that this correspondence was “vile and Islamaphobic”, and considered it “understandable” that he would want to respond to what had been published about him.

But, it continued, even if Mr El Diwany was right that Ms H’s evidence was unreliable and fabricated, “the way in which he responded went beyond an understandable and acceptable response”.

The solicitor must have known that he had “crossed the line”, sending Ms H “profoundly unpleasant” correspondence.

Further, if what he said about Ms H’s vulnerability and personal difficulties was true, “this made such an aggressive, personal and public campaign against her worse”.

As a result, there were no exceptional circumstances based on provocation that justified going behind the convictions – especially as the Norwegian courts had considered and rejected similar submissions.

The SDT was also not convinced that the second conviction was obtained by duress, noting that a right of appeal had existed.

It concluded that, in being convicted twice, he had brought the profession into disrepute.

Mr El Diwany said he did not notify the SRA about the convictions because it was “obvious” that his conduct would not have led to a conviction in the UK and “any fool” could see the conviction could be disregarded on that basis.

He said he did not consider he was obliged to report such “utter rubbish”.

The tribunal disagreed – it should have been clear to any solicitor that it was necessary to inform the regulator of such convictions, while it was likely that his actions would have been enough for a harassment prosecution in the UK.

In deciding sanction, the SDT noted Mr El Diwany’s previously unblemished career and the provocation he had faced.

But he directed his anger at what he considered the failings of the Norwegian newspapers and judicial process towards Ms H in the form of repeated harassment, and this was “totally unacceptable”.

The SDT rejected Mr El Diwany’s suggestion that he be suspended for one month and instead decided he should be struck off.

“The nature of the misconduct, both the convictions and the failure to report them, indicated a degree of continuing risk to the public on the basis that [he] considered himself beyond regulation, it being a matter for him what form his response to provocation took or whether a serious matter needed to be reported to his regulator,” it said.

“Whilst recognising the very strong mitigation presented by [Mr El Diwany], the tribunal considered that his complete lack of insight heightened the risks.”

He was also ordered to pay costs of £5,700.

On his personal website, Mr El Diwany rails against the SRA and SDT, and says he intends to appeal.

www.legalfutures.co.uk | by Neil Rose | 24 January 2020