The High Court has opted not to ban a solicitor caught up in a property scam, saying a finding of serious misconduct should not always result in such a penalty.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority had asked the court to suspend or strike off Mohammed Zahid Dar, a solicitor of 29 years, saying the sanction for such misconduct could have been considerably more severe.
But the court pointed out that the SRA never alleged dishonesty against Dar, and despite other cases involving lack of integrity resulting in harsher penalities, such action was not necessary here.
Giving judgment in Solicitors Regulation Authority v Dar, Lord Justice Hickinbottom and Mrs Justice May DBE said: ‘A finding of serious misconduct does not require striking off or an immediate suspension from practice, although no doubt that will be appropriate in most cases.
‘The tribunal had heard and seen Mr Dar give evidence, and were in the best position to assess the proper level of his culpability; and the appropriate and proportionate measures that would properly protect the public and the reputation of the profession.’
Dar, a sole director of Manchester firm Dar & Co Solicitors, was prosecuted for his role in a property transfer that turned out to be a fraud. He had acted for purported sellers of a London site and submitted a signed transfer document to HM Land Registry as part of the transaction.
The tribunal concluded Dar was aware of specific risks and unusual features of this dubious transaction, but failed to make further or additional enquiries that might have raised alarm bells. The tribunal found he acted recklessly and with a lack of integrity. It imposed a fine of £20,000, a 12-month suspension, itself suspended for two years, restrictions on Dar's practice and a costs order of £23,228.
The appeal judges rejected Dar’s own appeal, saying the tribunal was entitled to make its findings in relation to his credibility which were at least adequately explained in the decision. There was nothing to suggest the tribunal had not taken evidence of Dar's good character into account.
However the court found the tribunal had erred in not aligning the period of suspension with the period of restriction. The two-year suspension will be quashed and replaced with an indefinite 'suspension of the suspension' order. If Dar breaches the terms of his restriction, it is very likely that suspension from practice will be activated.