A law firm director who failed to act over suspect claims because he was trying to protect those providing him with work has been struck off the roll.
Farooq Rafiq must also pay £55,000 in costs after a tribunal found he did little to remedy or rectify any issues raised with him, because he valued his relationship with companies boosting the firm’s income over client interests.
Rafiq’s firm, Oldham-based Broadway Solicitors, handled more than 43,000 matters before being shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but relied on claims management companies for 97% of its work.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found Rafiq ‘repeatedly and consistently’ subordinated the interests of his clients for his own interests and that of the firm.
‘His major concern was to protect his source of work and to ensure that his systems protected those sources,’ said the tribunal.‘He had turned a “Nelsonian blind eye” to significant and serious issues raised by third parties so as to protect his source of work and, ultimately, the fees this generated.’
The tribunal heard the firm sent claims forms with signed statements of truth without an adequate basis for doing so. One supposed client confirmed she had never heard of the firm or instructed a solicitor. It was found that Rafiq was aware of concerns raised by multiple third parties but did nothing to alter the firm’s procedures.
It was heard the firm was financially dependent on receiving clients from CMCs, who received fees from both the firm and each client. The SRA said payments to the CMC were not in the clients' best interests, and the firm should have stepped in to advise clients to seek independent advice.
Rafiq said there was nothing improper or unlawful about these inter-dependent business relationships, but he accepted they led to an increased risk that the firm’s independence and professional judgement would be compromised.
The tribunal also heard that in September 2019 Rafiq was found guilty on three counts of assault by beating.
In mitigation, Rafiq said he had not planned to run the firm alone, and had been looking for someone to join him as director. He considered he had made a positive contribution to the community, trained a number of solicitors, offered pro bono clinics and made charitable donations.