UK: ‘Vaccine campaign’ solicitor fined £15,000 by SDT

UK Law Society Gazette

A solicitor accused of improperly threatening legal proceedings against a GP practice and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency during the pandemic has been fined £15,000.

Philip Julian Paul Hyland, admitted in 1998, faced two allegations centred on correspondence sent in December 2021 to a GP practice on behalf of one client and to the chair of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on behalf of three clients. Hyland is said to have improperly threatened legal proceedings when there was no proper basis for the claims.

He denied the allegations, but the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found the charges proved following a three-day hearing.

Edward Nally, chair of the three-person panel, said: ‘We would like to start by saying this case touches upon matters relevant to the Covid 19 pandemic but what this case is not about is the science of Covid 19, the vaccination programme and the wider public interests in that difficult time we all experienced.

‘Neither is this about the views of the minority or majority of the country of the correct approach to that emergency. Neither is it about accepting or fighting a case which advances what some could or would say is a minority view. It is not about the merits or demerits of vaccinations.

‘What it is about is the specific allegations about this specific solicitor.’

He added: ‘We understand and accept that solicitors take on cases and causes rightly and regularly with great skill and determination which the public expect of us as our profession. Nothing in our judgment should be seen to curtail that approach.’

Referring to the letter sent to the GP practice, the chair said: ‘We found that the approach and the wording of the letter went beyond what would be considered to be acceptable. We did find that it was excessively legalistic.’

Nally described the language in the letter as ‘overbearing in its terms’ and ‘submissions which were not properly arguable or in some cases not rooted in law’. He added: ‘At the end of the day we believe it was a construct and not a genuinely proper exercise.’

He told the remote hearing the reasons for finding the second allegation, about the MHRA letter, proved were ‘quite similar’.

In mitigation, the tribunal heard Hyland had an unblemished record and he had sent the MHRA letter to the SRA. Peter Fields, for Hyland, said: ‘Nobody ever complained about that letter. He volunteered that because he did not think there was anything wrong with it.

‘He wrote two letters and an email. There is no persistency here. He has 24 years of unblemished history defending vulnerable victims of bullying and harassment, that is Mr Hyland’s background.’

Hyland was ordered to pay a fine of £15,000 and must also pay SRA costs of £66,500. A full written judgment will be published soon.

The findings and sanction against Hyland are open to appeal.