A solicitor has been struck off for backdating a letter to the court to cover a mistake while employed in the Treasury Solicitor’s Department. Syed Tauseef Rizvi was based in the private law division working on behalf of the Ministry of Justice when he failed to meet a 20 November 2013 deadline for filing a defence in a case brought by a serving prisoner, the tribunal heard.
When the claimant’s solicitors applied for default judgment, Rizvi sent an email to Bristol County Court attaching a copy of the defence dated 13 November.
Around the same time, he asked his client's representative to backdate a defence, to be filed at court and served upon his opponent in litigation, to conceal the fact he had not filed and served his client’s defence in time.
The solicitor argued a heavy workload and lack of supervision - in addition to personal problems - had contributed to what was a one-off mistake.
Rizvi, 36 this year and qualified for nine years, had been recruited to work as TSol as a solicitor on a temporary contract through outsourcing business Capita. He worked in the department from January 2013 to March 2014. His misconduct was reported to the SRA the week after he left by Sarah Groom, head of the private law division, who stated he had falsified statements of truth and knowingly made untrue statements in a witness statement.
Rizvi admitted all allegations and appeared in person at a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing last month.
He told the tribunal his mother had died in January 2013 and his arranged marriage had been on the point of collapse. The stress he had suffered led to a situation where he was not able to focus properly and he submitted he was not ‘there’ during the relevant period. Meanwhile he had a ‘very difficult and time consuming’ caseload of up to 120 cases, and he had been trying to get this particular case settled without any admission of liability by the MoJ. He was working with little supervision as at a time the department had more locum solicitors than permanent staff.
Since leaving TSol Rizvi had been employed as a team leader at Slater Gordon Legal Solutions, who accepted he had made a gross error of judgment but that it was a ‘one-off aberration’. An email from SGLS general counsel said the firm had not seen 'any cause for concern in relation to [Rizvi’s] honesty and integrity during his two-year period of employment’.
Despite Rizvi's regret and apologies, the tribunal said Rizvi had been the author of his own misfortunes who breached the trust placed in him by TSol and its client.
The judgment, published this week, added: '[Rizvi] had had direct control of and responsibility for the circumstances in which the misconduct occurred. At the time of the misconduct, [he] had been qualified as a solicitor for over five years, and he was 32 years old; he could not be said to be inexperienced or naive.’
The tribunal accepted that personal problems had a 'cumulative effect’. But Rizvi's misconduct had come over several months and was deliberate. In those circumstances, there were no exceptional circumstances to justify any sanction other than a strike off.
Rizvi was also ordered to pay £4,000 costs.