Retired Scots lawyer struck off after being caught with child sex abuse images

A Scots lawyer convicted of making and sharing indecent images of children has been struck off the solicitors’ roll after being found guilty of “professional misconduct”.

Retired solicitor John Urquhart, 68, was found to have dozens of child sex abuse images on his personal computer.

The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) said it had “no hesitation” in unanimously finding the respondent guilty of professional misconduct and striking his name from the roll of solicitors in Scotland.

The tribunal heard that the respondent, who was enrolled as a solicitor in 1970, retired from practice in 2006 although his name remained on the roll.

The police attended at the respondent’s home in December 2013 in possession of a search warrant and he was detained and subsequently arrested.

An analysis of computer equipment removed from the premises uncovered a total of 75 images which were found to contain indecent content involving children, of which 59 were unique and of those 15 would be easily accessible to the user of the equipment.

The definitive guidelines outline a scale by which child sex abuse images can be ranked on a sliding scale of severity from one to five - one being the lowest - and the majority were graded at level 1, but some were at level 4 and a total of eight images had been shared with other users of the Yahoo Messenger Network.

In September 2014 the respondent was made the subject of a community payback order and made subject to the additional restrictions and supervision in relation to the Sex Offenders Act 2003 after pleading guilty on indictment at Dunfermline Sheriff Court to two charges under sections 52(1)(a) and (b) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

Although the offences occurred at the respondent’s home at a time when he did not hold a practising certificate, the Law Society of Scotland has a duty to investigate conduct complaints against any person if their name appears on the roll of solicitors.

The tribunal was referred to a case which had proceeded in England which demonstrated that such offences were considered to be serious, harmful to society, and contributing to the worldwide demand for child abuse.

The complainers submitted that the case was support for the contention that the behaviour had a “real risk of being damaging to the reputation of the profession” and “damaging to public confidence”.

The respondent was not disputing that his conduct amounted to professional misconduct and admitted that the convictions brought the profession into disrepute - a profession he held in “high regard”.

He said he regretted the impact that the images must have had on the subjects within them, the impact of his conviction on his profession, his family and friends, but added that at the time of the offences he had not believed that he was committing any offence.

The SSDT ultimately concluded that it had no option but no find him guilty of professional misconduct and to remove his name from solicitors’ roll.

In a written decision Colin Bell, vice chairman of the tribunal, said: “It is a basic and fundamental principle that a solicitor requires to be a person of integrity. If the public is to have trust in the profession then the profession must observe a high standard of conduct. It has been said often in the past that this requirement of integrity applies equally to a solicitor’s private life as it does to his professional conduct.

“The type of offending behaviour involved in these charges is considered by society to be serious and abhorrent. The tribunal had no hesitation in unanimously finding the respondent guilty of professional misconduct.”

With regard to the appropriate penalty to be imposed, the tribunal accepted that there were many mitigatory factors, in particular the respondent’s remorse and regret, but it was faced with “very serious convictions”.

Mr Bell added: “The tribunal accepted that in the respondent’s case the number and nature of images involved was at the lower end of the scale of this type of offence. Nonetheless, these were serious enough offences to be prosecuted on indictment and resulting in a significant community based disposal and a restriction under the Sex Offenders Act 2003.

“The tribunal concluded that ultimately the question that required to be answered was whether or not a conviction of this nature was compatible with an individual being on the roll of solicitors in Scotland. This was very serious conduct, extremely damaging to the reputation of and public confidence in the profession.

“The tribunal concluded unanimously that the only possible sanction was to strike the name of the respondent from the roll of solicitors in Scotland.”

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