A personal injury solicitor who had been reported to regulators by opposing solicitors has been cleared of misconduct.
Sohail Ghani accepted that he got dates wrong on correspondence for an RTA claim - and that he had not done a good job persuading a court his witness statement was true - but denied misconduct. He was cleared by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal following a two-day hearing last month.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority had alleged that Ghani, 42 this year, filed a witness statement with the court which contained untrue or misleading information about the date on which a signed disclosure list and witness statement were sent to the defendant’s solicitor. It was further alleged that he then sent a letter to the defendant’s solicitor with untrue or misleading information about the witness statement. Both allegations were advanced on the basis that his conduct was dishonest.
The underlying claim was struck out by District Judge Sheldrake sitting at Worcester County Court in February 2017, with the judgment saying the claimant’s disclosure was ‘laughably’ insufficient. The district judge suggested the claimant had been in ‘flagrant disregard’ of court orders and that he shared the defendant’s suspicion that signatures on witness statements ‘might have been superimposed’ from some other document.
National firm Horwich Farrelly, defending the claim, had reported concerns to the SRA about Ghani’s involvement and stated in its report that the claimant had failed to serve key documents on time.
Ghani, an assistant solicitor with Manchester firm Amicus Solicitors, told investigators in October 2017 he had little recollection of the events leading up to his client’s claim being struck out, as his health had been impaired during the period. This led to incorrect dates being put on the witness statement.
He submitted to the tribunal that he believed a letter had been sent in August 2016 enclosing witness statements and that remained his position. He believed that a colleague had written the letter in his absence from the office and he denied there was any need for a cover up.
The tribunal said that the words in the allegations required the SRA to prove not just that Ghani made a mistake but that he acted deliberately. Indeed, the case had been put squarely that Ghani had set out to mislead the court by preparing what amounted to a false witness statement concerning the date on which the signed disclosure list and witness statements were sent to Horwich Farrelly.
The prosecution had been unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Ghani’s witness statement to the court was any more than a ‘slip’, and, as for criticism from the district judge, Ghani had not been given an opportunity to respond as he had not been cross-examined.
Breaches of directions, such as they were, were found to be technical breaches and not amounting to professional misconduct. Allegations of dishonesty were found not proved.
The SRA applied for its costs of £18,122, saying the case had been properly brought. Ghani opposed this and made his own order for £30,000 costs. The tribunal made no order, leaving each side to pay their own costs.