The manager of claims at a north west firm has been fined for authorising payments to an unlicensed claims management company. Maneer Ahmed Ghani, manager of the RTA team at Blackburn firm KG Solicitors, admitted overseeing 544 claims from Legal Claims Helpline Limited (LCH) over the course of six months in 2016.
In total, 378 claims were taken on for £550 apiece, adding up to nearly £210,000.
Ghani, 34 this year, said he was aware that LCH was not registered with the Ministry of Justice but believed the company was exempt from regulation and in any case was applying for a licence.
Following a three-day hearing last month, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal rejected allegations of dishonesty and a lack of integrity, concluding Ghani had not deliberately turned away from his regulatory obligations. The practices of the firm were transparent, judged the tribunal, and Ghani had not been by-passing systems of authorisation.
The tribunal said ‘alarm bells’ should have been ringing when the firm exceeded its statutory annual limit of 100 referrals (allowed under exemption rules) within the first month of working with the CMC.
It was found that Ghani ought to have known the number of referrals had gone over the limit, but the tribunal could not be certain that he did know.
Ghani had told the hearing he had not made any money out of the work from LCH and he had been told the company was exempt from regulation. He had been extremely busy at this time with matters in his personal life and had not realised the number of referrals had exceeded the exemption threshold. Ghani denied turning a blind eye to referrals but accepted he had made a mistake.
The solicitor, who worked part time at the firm, had ‘agonised’ for 18 months over errors he had made, and he insisted he had been consistent throughout the SRA investigation and had not attempted to conceal anything.
The tribunal noted that misconduct had continued over a period of time, was repeated, and that Ghani should have known he was in breach of his obligations.
But this was also found to be a single chain of events in a previously unblemished career, following which Ghani had demonstrated insight and regret and made early admissions.
Ghani must pay a £5,000 fine and £3,500 costs. The firm was rebuked by the SRA over the matter in January this year.