An immigration lawyer who faked a sicknote for her unsuspecting client has avoided a permanent ban after the tribunal found that her judgement had been impaired by ill health.
Sandia Kumari Pamma, a non-practising former consultant with national firm Duncan Lewis Solicitors, admitted trying to delay a hearing with a false document because she was not up to speed with the case.
But the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal accepted she went through a series of difficult events in her personal life that caused depression, and left the door open to her possible return to practice in future years.
Pamma was alleged to have falsified a doctor’s statement of fitness for work to mislead the immigration and asylum chamber in Birmingham that her client was ill and could not attend. It was also alleged she repeated this statement to the director of her firm, made a written application for an adjournment on the basis of the false statement, then asked another solicitor to renew the application after the request for an adjournment was initially refused.
The SRA had been alerted following a report from Duncan Lewis in October 2016 raising concerns about a hearing at the immigration chamber, where a sick note was produced but the client confirmed that the document was fraudulent and misleading.
The firm attached correspondence from Pamma saying she had applied for an adjournment because she had not prepared the file adequately.
Before the tribunal in November, the solicitor admitted all the allegations, including dishonesty, but asked for leniency on the basis of her exceptional circumstances.
She gave details to the tribunal of an upsetting and difficult experience associated with her first pregnancy in 2011, and she admitted she had dealt with these events at the time as the first in a succession of traumatic events.
When her first child was born in 2013, she and her daughter spent time in intensive case, then in December 2014 she miscarried. During this period her previous firm closed while she was in hospital and she then set up her own practice, City Law Immigration Limited, to generate income and provide some balance between professional and family roles.
Following the birth of her son in July 2016, she continued to struggle to kept attending to work matters despite describing her life as ‘more exhausting and time consuming than anything she had experienced before’.
Pamma, a solicitor for 11 years, said she was angry at herself for not recognising she was not coping, and remorseful for what followed, as she tried not to let her client down.
The falsification of the sicknote was ‘preposterous’ and had no chance of succeeding, and subsequent diagnosis from a consultant psychologist found she suffered a moderate depressive episode at the time and was not fit to work.
The SRA submitted that the tribunal should consider the extent, nature and scope of dishonesty, which lasted for three days and involved misleading a court.
The tribunal agreed that any act of dishonesty was ‘extremely serious’, but accepted that Pamma’s judgement was impaired. Finding her to be an ‘honest witness who gave straightforward and credible evidence’, the tribunal accepted that her condition caused her to act out of character and that the pressure on her was exceptional.
Pamma was suspended indefinitely and advised not to reapply to the roll for at least five years. She must also pay £7,361 costs.