A sole practitioner whose accounting systems went wrong while he pursued lengthy legal action against the government has been fined by a tribunal.
Ahmed Hersi, who practised under the name Hersi & Co Solicitors in north-west London, has spent seven years involved in proceedings against the Lord Chancellor after the withdrawal of his legal aid contract in November 2010.
Hersi admitted to an investigating officer that his focus was not on running the firm but on the £4.4m litigation, saying the case was more important in the long-run. The solicitor said the case, which is now before the Court of Appeal, had cost him a large amount of time and money.
But while his energy was invested in the claim, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that problems and deficiencies arose with regards to the firm’s accounts.
Hersi confirmed that he had reached an agreement to pay back outstanding sums owed to Garden Court Chambers, having been reported to the SRA by the Bar Council and added to a list of defaulting solicitors. Debts remained for six years before the agreement to pay back £1,000 a year. To date almost £6,000 of the £7,956 owed has been repaid.
The SRA alleged that ledgers were not produced to show dealings with all client money or office money, money relating to all client matters was not recorded on a client cash account, office money was not recorded in the correct ledger, and it was not possible to ascertain client balances or client liabilities.
Hersi, a solicitor for 15 years, had been required to produce his books of account which included cash books, journals, ledgers, other books of account and bank reconciliations. The SRA said that when investigators visited the firm in November 2015, Hersi did not provide properly written-up accounting records.
Hersi submitted that investigators had produced evidence which was inconsistent and inaccurate and which failed to prove there were no proper accounting records. But the tribunal dismissed an application to throw out the prosecution and proceeded to find five allegations proved against him.
The tribunal said breaches of accounts rules were omissions rather than pre-planned courses of conduct.
But Hersi had been ‘distracted’ by his litigation with the Legal Aid Agency, given no consideration of the risk to the firm and been ‘naïve’ in his governance of it. He was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs.