I have previously talked about tragic cases where lawyers, often young and inexperienced, have found themselves in difficulties when something goes wrong. In the worst cases, we have seen careers brought to an end as a result of desperate attempts to hide the error. Most recently I covered the case where deadlines had been missed by a few days and where the matter might well have been capable of resolution –
This case and others raised the importance of openness. I have said repeatedly that honesty is always the best option. My mantra has been that mistakes are not the end of the world but trying to cover up the mistakes, can be.
It was with some horror that I read the unfortunate case of paralegal, Nasrullah Mursalin. He made a mistake. He lodged a bundle of documents in an immigration case. He wrongly included papers relating to family proceedings concerning children. In the absence of permission from the Family Court this was contempt of court. It was a genuine error. He thought he was complying with a directions order. The immigration tribunal referred him to the family court.
It came before HHJ Judge Moradifar who said –
“This breach is so serious that in my judgment it can only attract a custodial sentence.”
He was given a 6-month suspended prison sentence for a genuine misunderstanding. So much for my advice! This could well have ended any hope of a career at the bar.
Thankfully the sentence has been quashed by the Court of Appeal. The appeal judges acknowledged that it was wrong to file the sensitive documents but also that there had been no significant consequences. Baker LJ noted that the judge had not actually seen the documents in question. There was a failure to set out the details of the contempt and there was a clear suggestion that his employers were at fault. There had been procedural failings in relation to the issue of contempt that were arguably as serious as those in relation to the documents.
The sentence was set aside and the order made against Mr Mursalin was to be removed from the record.
This is clearly a correct decision which brings us back to the real world. The case again highlights the responsibilities on managers to ensure that young workers are not exposed to this type of incident. Where was the supervision? Where was the support? Why did nobody with full knowledge of the rules not check what was being filed?
If anything, this reinforces the view that legal businesses must cultivate an environment on openness which can support their staff and also avoid incidents like this occurring in the first place.