A solicitor found by a tribunal to have facilitated abusive immigration claims has failed in a High Court appeal against his £20,000 fine. Malik Mohammed Nazeer, a joint director of London firm Malik & Malik, was sanctioned by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last February but challenged that decision in the administrative court.
In Nazeer v Solicitors Regulation Authority, Nazeer contended the tribunal was wrong to find one of the allegations against him proved, wrong to impose the fine, and wrong to impose conditions on his practising certificate. Nazeer argued that, without expertise in immigration, he could not judge if individual claims had merit and he had no personal involvement in the claims that turned out to be an abuse of process.
But The Honourable Mr Justice Lavender found the tribunal was entitled to find Nazeer in breach of SRA principles and was not satisfied that the resulting sanctions were inappropriate. The judge made clear this was not a case where a solicitor happened to be partner in a firm where misconduct took place: Nazeer, admitted in August 1997, dealt with the firm’s management and administration and was the compliance officer for practice and finance administration. In this context, the judge said, the tribunal was entitled to conclude that his failure to do anything facilitated claims which were an abuse of the process of the court.
The court heard that Sir Brian Leveson, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, said in January 2014 he had considered referring the firm to the SRA after an abusive application which was blamed on a rogue employee. Despite this warning, the Home Office later informed the SRA that Malik & Malik had submitted 35 cases that were certified as totally without merit between April 2014 and July 2015. An SRA investigation began in April 2016.
Before the tribunal, six allegations were made against Nazeer, including that he and his brother (who was not involved in the appeal) facilitated the abuse of litigation by bringing or facilitating judicial review claims. In relation to two particular clients, the firm provided ‘unbundled’ services, drafting claims which the clients brought as litigants in person. The tribunal had found as fact that claims made by these two clients were made to delay lawful removal.
Lavender J said he considered a person could facilitate something by inaction. He also described it as ‘frankly, astonishing’ that Nazeer had said in his evidence to the tribunal that the firm did nothing wrong.
The judge highlighted the tribunal’s conclusion that Nazeer and his brother were both directors of the firm and responsible for its operations and the actions of fee earners. Lavender J said it was clear Nazeer had breached SRA principles not because he knew claims made by the two particular clients were not properly arguable, but because he failed to manage the firm adequately, despite warnings that had been received, and left the running of such cases entirely to his brother.
The judge added: ‘The tribunal was entitled to take a very dim view of [Nazeer’s] conduct. Not only had the firm facilitated the abuse of litigation, or abuse of process as it is more commonly known, but [Nazeer] himself had failed to do anything to stop it, despite his responsibilities as director and as COLP and despite the warnings.’
The judge said there had been no injustice suffered by Nazeer and he was satisfied with the fine and practising conditions. The appeal was dismissed.