The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has made an extraordinary and unprecedented attack on a key prosecution witness – plus her McKenzie friend – relied on by the SRA to plead its case.
The tribunal concluded ahead of a five-day hearing earlier this year it was ‘just’ to drop dishonesty allegations initially made against Rajinder Kumar Puri.
The West Yorkshire solicitor had been charged in relation to alleged overcharging of a client and from an estate, as well as providing misleading and untrue information to a divorce client named as Wendy Mullaney.
Rory Mulchrone, for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, admitted to the tribunal that there was a ‘stark conflict of evidence’ between key witness Mullaney (assisted by Ranjit Sandhu, a solicitor acting as her McKenzie friend) and Puri.
During cross-examination, Mullaney admitted her initial complaint to the SRA was incorrect, said she could not recollect key dates, and accepted that ‘prompts and suggestions’ were made by the SRA with regard to the contents of her witness statement. Her claim to the Legal Ombudsman that she was liable for £3,000 legal costs was not true and she had not incurred any legal costs at the material time.
Sandhu told the tribunal her conversations with Mullaney were subject to legal privilege so she would not answer any questions about them. This was incorrect as Mullaney was not a client.
The tribunal found Mullaney’s evidence to have been ‘wholly discredited and thoroughly unreliable’: she lied in her evidence about communications with Sandhu and her overall evidence was ‘misleading, self-serving and less than candid’. It rejected her evidence in its entirety.
The tribunal was ‘equally troubled’ by Sandhu’s evidence, which was found to be ‘misleading, vague and defensive’.
The most serious allegations dismissed, the tribunal moved on to the rest of the case and heard Puri, owner and manager of Rothery Inesons Solicitors, had been appointed by the Court of Protection to handle the affairs of an elderly client with dementia.
He drafted nine bills for the management of her affairs coming to around £5,000, but the tribunal heard he was entitled only to fixed costs of costs subject to detailed assessment. Although the nine invoices did not financially prejudice the client, they were deemed ‘procedurally irregular’ because there was no assessment made.
With regard to another client, who lived in a residential home, Puri had stated to the SRA he had mistakenly believed bills could be justified but he accepted they were incorrectly raised.
Puri admitted misconduct charges in relation to the bills and said in mitigation these were two isolated incidents and that he posed no current or future risk either to the public or the reputation of the profession.
The tribunal noted he made no nefarious gain from the bills, was trying to keep his practice running and was inexperienced as a deputy. He acted in breach of trust but believed he was acting correctly at the time. He was fined £7,501. The SRA made no order for costs.