A solicitor who instructed a barrister who had been banned from practice has told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that he was victim of a ‘compelling deception’.
Zeeshan Saqib Mian admitted taking on the disbarred lawyer in early 2014 as a consultant at his east London firm Denning Solicitors and instructing him on two matters in the High Court.
Appearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, Mian accepted he acted with ‘manifest incompetence’ in causing the barrister, who had been convicted of fraud in 2009 and disbarred in 2011, to exercise a right of audience.
In mitigation Mian said he was representing a client in a difficult case when the barrister provided useful input. He acknowledged failing to check any credentials but said the barrister was ‘highly credible’ and that anyone could have been ‘duped’ in the way he was.
Mian denied misconduct on a separate charge of allowing the firm to be used as a banking facility through its association with a specialist property company developing sites in central London locations.
The SRA, prosecuting, said Denning Solicitors had agreed to provide services in return for 9% of the value of each contract and in total £145,000 was received into the client bank from individual investors and then transferred to the client less the firm’s fee for each transaction.
Despite warning notices at the time from the regulator, the client provided potential investors with reassurance that funds would be paid to an ‘SRA authority’ and Denning’s involvement provided respectability to the scheme.
Mian said he had sought guidance from the SRA’s professional ethics helpline and was told he could offer services provided he complied with money laundering checks. He submitted he received money on behalf of his client in the same way as any solicitor acting for a seller.
The tribunal ruled that no underlying legal work had been carried out for each individual instruction. There was no necessity for the investors’ money to be paid through the firm’s client account.
The tribunal said the firm’s actions ‘created an environment which conferred trust to the extent that this helped create an environment which conferred trust and an aura of security’.
Mian, a solicitor since 2007 and also a qualified barrister, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs. The firm was closed by the SRA on unrelated issues.