A solicitor who admitted to having little experience in conveyancing – and who then paid out a £42,000 house deposit to a third party – has been fined by the tribunal.
Liberty Law UK Limited, the Manchester firm owned and managed by solicitor Syed Rizvi, admitted in 2013, did mostly immigration work and had not even put on its insurance renewal proposal that it undertook conveyancing.
But after Rizvi took on a client selling a property in London and contracts were exchanged, he followed an instruction to transfer the deposit money from the client account to an unconnected third party in Singapore. There was nothing on the client file to identify who this recipient was or how they were related to the proposed purchase.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that the sale fell through and the deposit money was not returned. Rizvi made an undertaking in 2019 to the potential buyer that they would get their deposit back, but knew the firm did not have the funds to make this payment.
It was more than a year before the buyers got back their £42,000, and only then after Rizvi’s firm had closed and they had made a claim against its insurers.
The tribunal said: ‘[Rizvi] had been an inexperienced conveyancer and his case presented as a warning to the profession of the dangers of a solicitor stepping outside the area of his or her expertise without first obtaining the necessary experience to discharge their professional duty with competence.
‘It also opened the solicitor to the risk of being used as an unwitting instrument to facilitate fraud or other associated criminal activity.’
The tribunal noted that undertakings were the ‘bedrock’ of the conveyancing system and that any breach was something which tarnishes the reputation of the profession as a whole.
Rizvi, who made an agreed outcome with the SRA, said in mitigation that he considered he was both permitted and obligated to comply with the instruction to transfer the funds, and that his lack of experience in conveyancing contributed to what happened. He said this was an isolated incident which is unlikely to be repeated.
He was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £14,500 costs.