Lawyers for a former chief executive facing dishonesty charges have urged tribunal members to take no notice of the noise surrounding his firm.
Geoffrey Williams QC, representing Kamran Akram at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, said members should keep out their minds the publicity which Bolton firm Asons had attracted in recent years.
The firm was closed following an intervention from the Solicitors Regulation Authority last year. It was previously granted £300,000 from Bolton Council to boost local employment opportunities.
Williams told the tribunal that the publicity arising from the intervention and grant was ‘vast’ but should not be the basis for Akram’s prosecution. ‘Just to avoid any confusion at all two matters need to be made clear: the local authority grant was given by Bolton Council to assist the development of employment; a huge fuss was made about it,’ said Williams. ‘It was a grant, not a loan, but Mr Akram repaid every penny of it. Secondly, this was not an intervention based on suspected dishonesty.’
Akram, 40, faces six charges including causing or permitting the presentation of applications for costs in personal injury claims that misrepresented the grade of fee earner on each case. He is also alleged to have allowed the payment of prohibited referral fees and to have provided misleading information to the court in relation to false and inflated claims for costs. Dishonesty and lack of integrity is alleged in relation to certain charges.
Williams said Akram accepted ‘overgrading’ took place in certain cases but denied having any knowledge it was happening, and denied acting dishonestly or without integrity.
The amounts overpaid were estimated to be around £520,000, and Akram has since paid these back. In any case, it was argued, there was little financial incentive to breach SRA rules for such an amount when the firm was posting annual revenues of almost £29.5m.
Williams said the SRA’s case relied on the testimony of a former colleague of Akram, while ignoring the greater number of people from the firm willing to say Akram had done nothing dishonest.
On documents submitted to the court and signed by Akram, he claimed to have been ‘duped’ into committing his name to them, and declared this to be ‘one of the biggest mistakes of my life’.
Williams added: ‘It was management issues that brought about the transgressions, not any want of good character by Mr Akram.’
Submissions in the hearing closed yesterday.