A solicitor who sent a string of abusive messages as part of a long-running dispute with a colleague has been fined £2,000. Anup Shah, senior partner at Mayfair, London, practice CVS LLP, sent a consultant at the firm three emails which made reference to his age, religion and mental state.
The two, who were former friends, had been at loggerheads since the unnamed consultant had retired as equity partner in 2006 but agreed to stay on for five years.
When it was decided he would not come into the office so regularly, the consultant sent a Christmas card to a secretary complaining about his treatment and saying the firm was ‘disintegrating’.
Shah emailed back saying the consultant should ‘seek help’ and suggesting as a Catholic he should ‘know better than to spread such hatredness [sic] especially during Christmas’. The email was copied to two colleagues.
In a subsequent email in March 2010 Shah told him he was a ‘very bitter old man’.
He then followed that up in September 2010 with the same insult and suggested the consultant had ‘lost his marbles’ and was ‘probably going senile’.
The email continued: ‘The fact of the matter is that you were long past your sell by date and we should have got rid of you years ago. The only reason I kept you on was loyalty but I should have realised you were just a parasite.’
The correspondence resulted in an employment tribunal brought by the consultant which found in his favour in relation to four acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
Shah and the firm were ordered to pay £18,509 compensation for injury to feelings, and the case was referred to the SRA.
Shah, who was admitted in 1986, admitted two allegations, including that he directly discriminated against an individual on the grounds of religion and/or age and perpetrated unlawful acts of harassment and victimisation in breach of solicitor rules.
Shah told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal earlier this month that his language had been ‘intemperate and had crossed the line’. He stressed that he presided over a very diverse firm and had no previous matters against him in 30 years of practice. His conduct was exceptional and would not be repeated, and he apologised ‘unreservedly’ for what he had done.
In its judgment, the tribunal accepted his apology was genuine but found there was clear potential for harm to the profession as recognised by the employment tribunal.
His motivation was deemed to be anger and he had not intended to discriminate or vicitimise the consultant, with his culpability judged as ‘low’.
On costs, the SRA applied for more than £32,000 on the basis that the case had been ‘hotly contested’ to the extent Shah applied to have charges struck out in their entirety.
Shah invited the tribunal to make no order for costs, based partly on ‘a number’ of errors made by the SRA in prosecuting which ‘typified [its] overall conduct of the proceedings’.
The tribunal said the fine it handed out could have been issued by the SRA, in which case costs would have been £600. But it noted the need for proportionality and doing justice to Shah and the profession, and assessed costs at £16,000.