A former law firm director has been suspended after misleading insurers about long-standing probes into his practice.
Ashtar Dhami, sole principal at Harrow firm Hanson Young & Co Limited, answered ‘no’ when asked on an indemnity insurance renewal firm whether it had been investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Legal Ombudsman.
He signed the declaration in August 2016 when in fact he was aware of an ongoing SRA investigation since March 2015. The ombudsman had written to Dhami about a complaint as early as December 2015.
The solicitor, admitted in 2007, said he completed the forms in a rush and was confused about the nature of some questions. But the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal noted he had time to amend one response and was ‘well aware’ of the ombudsman’s involvement.
The tribunal also found Dhami had reached an agreement with a vulnerable client, signed by both parties, which included words to the effect that the client would withdraw all complaints to the SRA and/or ombudsman – in breach of SRA outcomes. They had instructed the firm in relation to family matters and had experienced mental health problems, and the tribunal said a solicitor acting with integrity would not have made such an agreement.
Dhami admitted nine allegations relating to accounts rule breaches, including failing to submit an accountant’s report and allowing the accrual of £300,000 client account debit balances.
The firm’s accounts were said to be ‘utter chaos’ and the tribunal judgment confirmed the compensation fund had already paid £21,000, with two further claims worth almost £37,000 still outstanding.
Dhami denied an allegation of dishonesty in relation to the insurance declaration and the tribunal said this charge was unproven.
In mitigation, the solicitor said he knew nothing apart from legal work and had three children and elderly parents to support. He had used up his savings but had been offered work, from January 2018, as a duty solicitor at a fixed rate of £550 per month plus any police station work.
The tribunal said Dhami’s conduct had been a ‘complete departure’ from the standards expected of a solicitor, and his misconduct had been ‘deliberate, calculated and repeated’. It was decided a six-month suspension would act as deterrent and punishment, with the judgment adding: ‘The tribunal did not consider [Dhami] fully appreciated what it meant to be a solicitor, in particular the privilege that this was and the obligations that it placed on the individual.'
He will be subject to conditions on his return to practise and must also pay £44,000 costs.