A recent ruling by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has reprimanded a Solicitor for making “offensive and derogatory” comments to his opponent, including calling him a “plonker”.

To provide a little background, in 2012 the Solicitors Regulation Authority  (SRA) received a file of documents from a firm called D & Co Solicitors enclosing evidence of abuse comments made by Richard Barca, a Solicitor of Wilson Barca LLP with almost 30 years’ experience in the field.

Mr Barca’s tone started off mildly:-

“We enclose herewith a further copy of our letter of the 27th April, so that you can consider actually replying to it, as solicitors who comply with the normal English standards of conduct would do as a matter of course.”

He then went on further to say:

“Could you for once make an effort to behave like a normal person instead of a complete plonker?”

Mr Barca was warned that his opponent would report him to the SRA if his conduct continued. An exchange of correspondence followed before D & Co Solicitors sent a letter to Mr Barca stating the following:-

[The Respondent’s] insults and outrageous behaviour has (sic) gone on for long enough. [The Respondent’s] conduct is wholly unacceptable, disgraceful and downright bigoted.”

A complaint to the SRA then followed who launched a full investigation into the matter and asked Mr Barca to explain the reasoning behind his actions. Mr Barca remarked that his choice of wording in referring to his opponent as a plonker should be read “in the context of the entire correspondence, over 2,000 pages”.

In trying to mitigate Mr Barca’s circumstances further, his Solicitor argued that he had been suffering from an undiagnosed medical condition at the time the emails were sent and that this “affected his temperament and strained his work relationships”.

In ruling on the matter, the Tribunal commented that the matter was too serious for an order not to be made, and took into consideration that had Mr Barca not been impaired by his medical condition, a fine would have been made. However, given the circumstances, a reprimand was more appropriate.

The decision was met by a torrent of criticism by the legal fraternity on both sides of the fence, many of which commenting that the use of a medical condition to justify such behaviour is simply inexcusable. On the contrary, others expressed their views that Solicitors, by their very nature when caught up in intense litigation disputes, should have skin thick enough to tolerate “innocuous comments” made by their opponents.

What is to be classed as a breach of the SRA regulations in the future seems relatively clear, however, it has to be remembered that legal practitioners have an obligation to adhere to the rules and regulations on the standard of professional conduct provided in the SRA Code of Conduct.