A recently-qualified solicitor has been struck off after she created a fake decree absolute and led a client to believe his divorce was complete.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Ebru Atas, who qualified in 2017, had the client pay £1,630 fees directly into her personal bank account and told him these were being paid to the firm.
She created a false decree absolute in the client’s name and certified a copy of this document. It was later confirmed by the Bury St Edmunds divorce unit there was ‘no trace’ of documents relating to this client. Even when the matter was uncovered, Atas had phoned the client and told him he should trust her as his legal representative, insisting the decree absolute was a genuine document.
The solicitor’s dishonesty over the divorce was discovered after she had already been dismissed in August 2019 by her firm, north London practice Kilic & Kilic, for gross misconduct (the firm is currently handling the divorce matter on a pro bono basis).
It had been found that another client, who was the respondent in applications brought by his wife for a non-molestation order and custody of their children, as well as divorce proceedings, had paid Atas £1,635 direct into her bank account. This was despite her knowing this client was not liable for the firm’s fees given he was in receipt of legal aid. Atas issued invoices to the client, provided her personal bank account details and received the payments. The client was led to believe he was paying legal fees to the firm, when this was not the case.
Atas agreed with the SRA to being struck off. In her mitigation, not agreed by the SRA, she said she felt unable to maintain her workload and was scared she would lose her job. This is denied by the firm’s owners, who say Atas was well-supported at a firm where she started as a paralegal in 2014.
Atas said she has apologised to both affected clients and had returned the money – although it was noted they were only refunded when the firm requested that she did this. Atas was struck off and ordered to pay £5,000 costs.