The senior solicitor at a personal injury firm was dishonest or at the very least lacked integrity by allowing the firm to become embroiled in a fraudulent scheme involving road traffic accident claims, a tribunal heard this week.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) is currently conducting an eight-day hearing into Kamran Akram – formerly principal solicitor at Asons Solicitors in Bolton.
Charges brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) include that Akram caused or permitted the presentation of applications for costs which misrepresented the grade of fee-earners so as to increase the level of recoverable costs; and caused or permitted claims for special damages which contained particulars that were false.
Akram denies that he lacked integrity, or acted dishonestly or recklessly.
For the SRA, counsel Rory Dunlop said that even if Akram was unaware of the ‘fraudulent activity’, [the SRA] could not see how it would not be considered reckless that he was unaware of such practices.
Dunlop said the tribunal should take note of two recent judgments, Ivey v Genting Casinos Ltd t/a Crockfords, which centres on the test for dishonesty and Wingate & Anor v The Solicitors Regulation Authority, on what constitutes a lack of integrity. In Wingate, Lord Justice Jackson said professional people should have a duty to adhere to higher moral standards not only in what they say but also what they do.
Dunlop said: ‘You [the tribunal] may say that allowing your firm to become embroiled in RTA and special damages fraud amounts to a lack of integrity.’
In yesterday’s evidence Julian Smart, partner at national firm BLM, said it suspected that Asons operated under an ‘edict’ in which the experience and grade of fee earners were overstated.
BLM had acted on behalf of insurance company Zurich – the defendant in several personal injury claims brought by Asons.
In addition, the tribunal heard that the firm had made a series of ‘almost identical’ costs orders falsely claiming that psychological and cognitive behavioural therapy treatment had been carried out.
The cases, at Nottingham County Court, were consolidated and later settled. Asons was ordered to meet the wasted costs of defendants, including Zurich.
Dunlop said although Asons made no admission of reckless behaviour ‘paying costs is in itself indicative of being at fault’.
For Akram, Geoff Williams QC said the SRA’s forensic report was based on a ‘tiny fraction’ (0.7%) of the total number of files the firm was working on. Questioning the SRA’s forensic officer Adam Howells, Williams said there was no evidence to suggest that the activity resulted in the financial success of the firm.
The hearing continues and all charges are as yet unproven.