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Private hearings

In the case of L v The Law Society [2008] EWCA Civ 811 it was held that: The existence of prior convictions, either spent or unspent, is not of itself sufficient to amount to an exceptional circumstance that would justify holding that appeals under the Master of the Rolls (Appeals and Applications) Regulations 2001 should be held in private.

The appeal arose out of an appeal from a decision of the Law Society to revoke student membership of the Society on the grounds that the student member does not have the necessary character or suitability to be a student member or ultimately to be permitted admission to the Solicitors' roll. Rule 10 of the 2001 Regulations provides that the hearing shall be in public unless: (a) all parties to the application or appeal agree that all or part of the hearing shall be in private and the Master of the Rolls considers that this will not be contrary to the interests of justice; or (b) the Master of the Rolls considers that there are exceptional circumstances which justify hearing all or part of the application or appeal in private. The appeal raised two points of interest.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders point
The appellant relied upon the fact that the convictions which gave rise to the appeal were all long since spent. They are thus matters that are ordinarily subject to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Applications to become a student member of the Law Society are exempt from the terms of section 4(2) of the 1974 Act: see section 3(a)(i) and Schedule 1 of The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (SI 1023/1975). Furthermore, Article 5(1) of Schedule 3 of the 1975 Order applied to the instant appeal by exempting: "Proceedings in respect of a person's admission to, or disciplinary proceedings against a member of any profession specified in Schedule 1 of [the] Order." Notwithstanding disclosure of his spent convictions as a consequence of an open hearing and public judgment in the present proceedings, the appellant generally retained the protection of the 1974 Act. As such, he could not properly be said to be prejudiced by the substantive hearing being held in public with a public judgment to follow.

The fair hearing point
The appellant also relied on Article 6(1) of the ECHR, on the ground that a public hearing would result in loss of his livelihood. Given the protection afforded by section 4(3)(b) of the 1974 Act the Master of the Rolls could not accept that a public hearing would have that effect. It might have an adverse effect on other work he carries out i.e., in respect of television documentary work additional to his employment, but that would not amount to a loss of livelihood.

 

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