A law firm director labelled evasive, inconsistent and dishonest by a district judge over inflated costs bills has been struck off the roll.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Kirna Devi Madhas had been challenged at Leeds County Council by insurers after submitting costs claims for personal injury claims. Madhas’ firm, formerly known as GSD Law Ltd, was found to have falsely represented hourly rates in bills of costs and falsely claimed for costs on the basis that work was carried out by a senior fee earner.
District Judge Neaves concluded that, far from being inadvertent or careless, these mistakes were deliberate and reflected Madhas’ dishonesty.
The tribunal heard that the solicitor appealed against the order that client costs should be disallowed due to the firm’s misconduct. The appeal was dismissed and permission to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court was refused.
Following an SRA investigation, Madhas, a solicitor for 16 years, had submitted that the district judge had failed to understand Civil Procedure Rules, and that she felt ‘ambushed’ in a hearing that effectively became a fraud trial against her.
The tribunal ruled there was nothing before it to contradict the district judge’s conclusion. It was further found that during the costs hearing, Madhas had referred to a forged CFA document and attempted to mislead the court.
Among several other allegations of misconduct, the tribunal heard that Madhas obtained advice from counsel that claims had a poor prospect of success, but delayed or failed entirely to notify clients or after-the-event insurers. Where claims were pursued to trial and were unsuccessful, these cases were not covered by ATE and so adverse costs orders were made – of which clients would become aware only when successful defendants pursued them for payment.
The tribunal said this was a client’s ‘worst nightmare’ and their lives had been ‘wrecked’ by the pursuit of money. It added: ‘Many of her clients had suffered personal injuries and looked to her to help them obtain redress and they had not expected or deserved their vulnerabilities to be exploited by the respondent for her own gain and to find themselves in an even worse position. The extent of the harm was spread across multiple clients.’
The tribunal also heard that 11 complaints had been made about the firm to the Legal Ombudsman but Madhas failed to comply with awards made to complainants.
Madhas must pay £40,000 SRA costs as well as being struck off.