A solicitor who allowed a struck-off colleague to continue representing clients has been suspended from practice for two years.
Mahesh Chouhan effectively took over management of Middlesex firm ABM Solicitors & Advocates from the banned Bina Maistry in October 2018, but she continued to deal with the client account and sign the firm’s cheques. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said it appeared Chouhan found himself in charge of a firm with no real understanding of the role; he was ‘out of his depth’ and not competent to have been in a position to be owner.
But this did not excuse his conduct, which caused harm to clients and also to the reputation of the profession, with the result that Chouhan needed to be removed for a period of time but not necessarily struck off. Once his suspension ends, he will not be allowed to practise as a sole practitioner or owner of a firm, be a partner of a firm or hold client money, and any work as a solicitor must be approved by the SRA.
The tribunal heard that Chouhan had been admitted as a solicitor in 2011, joined ABM in July 2017 and was senior partner with the firm until it was intervened in by the SRA last September.
Maistry had been one of the original partners before she was struck off for misleading the court during a hearing, misleading a solicitor in correspondence and attempting to mislead the SRA. But within a month of her being banned, she appeared for the firm in the West London Family Court on two client matters – both placement orders concerning children. It later emerged that Maistry had been holding herself out as a solicitor using her maiden name and that she attended the firm’s offices most afternoons to see clients, with Chouhan’s decisions having to go through her. For at least nine months after being struck off, she remained the only person in the firm who had the ability to go in to the accounts and sign cheques.
Chouhan recognised he should not have allowed Maistry access to the office and took on the position of senior partner without firstly understanding the role. His suspension followed an agreed outcome with the SRA. He will also pay £24,500 costs as a result of this agreement.