A law firm owner who made payments to a former solicitor knowing that the recipient was banned from the profession has himself been struck off the roll.
Kuldip Singh, manager and compliance officer at Ilford firm SJ Solicitors, had already been told by the SRA he could not employ the former solicitor as a legal assistant. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard this individual, referred to as Mr O, had been banned in 2008 for allowing his client account to be used as a banking facility and improperly withdrawing client money.
Singh’s application to employ Mr O was rejected in November 2014 after the SRA concluded Mr O still posed a ‘substantial risk’ to the public. A year later, another firm wrote to SJ Solicitors with concerns about the link between the firm and Mr O. In his reply, Singh said these concerns were an ‘unfounded provisional view’.
But the SRA submitted to the tribunal that Singh had been ‘evasive, bordering on disingenuous’ in his explanations.
The tribunal heard Mr O had use of a room at the firm’s offices for 18 months, and received three payments, totalling £2,500, from the firm’s client account.
Using one of the aliases he went by, it was submitted Mr O used his own email address to send out the firm’s correspondence.
Singh, who did not appear at last month’s tribunal hearing and was not represented, denied that Mr O referred any clients to his firm and denied offering him any facilities or allowing him to borrow an office. But the tribunal said it did not consider his explanation to be plausible and was satisfied Singh had remunerated Mr O, in breach of solicitor rules.
While breaching this rule might not of itself be dishonest, taken against the background of what Singh knew and what Mr O was doing from the firm, Singh was found to have acted dishonestly.
Several other charges were also proved, including acting for the borrower and lender in loan transactions, failing to return money held on client account, and causing a shortfall to arise in the client account.
The tribunal concluded that Singh had acted to keep his practice afloat and would profit from clients referred by Mr O. A solicitor for 19 years, he had a reasonable level of experience and had caused harm both to clients and to the reputation of the firm.
He was struck off and ordered to pay £56,686 in costs.