The Solicitors Regulation Authority has urged the High Court to strike off a solicitor found to have received client fees into his personal bank account.
Kwame Siaw was fined £10,000 in April by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which found him to have lacked integrity but not to have acted dishonestly.
That second finding was today appealed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which argued the tribunal’s reasoning for making the integrity finding was also reason to find him dishonest. Siaw's lawyer told judges they should ‘have confidence’ in the tribunal’s judgment.
The court heard that Siaw, formerly with south east London practice Mountain Partnership Services, had already been suspected by his firm of taking 10 previous matters ‘off book’ and was ordered by his senior partner not to take on any more cases. Despite this, he was instructed to work on an immigration matter by a Ghanaian national threatened with deportation.
It was common ground that Siaw acted for the client and received £500 from the client’s wife, which he failed to account to the firm. The client and his wife gave evidence to the tribunal that they had agreed fees of £1,500.
The SRA submitted that Siaw first said he was working pro bono for a friend. He then said the £500 payment was to cover disbursements. The court heard Siaw withdrew his evidence to the tribunal part-way through the hearing and could not explain why he was paid the money.
The tribunal concluded on integrity that Siaw ‘knew that either all or part of the money was costs and he should pay it into the firm’. But, rejecting dishonesty, it found Siaw had a ‘deep if misguided belief that he was acting privately to help a friend and that at least part of the money was his own’.
The tribunal also found what Siaw told the SRA during its investigation was untrue and misleading, but this was due to a ‘muddled state of belief’.
Today Edward Levey, for the SRA, told the court: ‘It does appear this tribunal knew the consequences of finding an act of dishonesty and were struggling as best they could not to make that finding.’
He added: ‘This was a person prepared to lie to his regulator. This was a solicitor who was dishonest to his senior partner [and] gave evidence at trial which was regarded as being untruthful.’
For Siaw, Althea Brown said the solicitor believed he was helping someone in urgent need and that the tribunal had approached the matter in ‘real life terms’. She said that he did not have access to his files when questioned by the SRA and submitted that just because something is dishonest, that does not mean the person is themselves dishonest.
Judgment was reserved.