The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has slashed a Solicitors Regulation Authority costs claim by two-thirds after what it viewed as an ‘excessive’ probe into a sole practitioner.
The SRA applied for £27,696 costs for investigating the accounts rules breaches by Blackburn-based Ghafar Yousaf Khan.
Khan, whose firm closed in February 2014, had admitted some allegations against him about the way he kept and maintained accounts.
But, following a six-month investigation and two interviews, the SDT found five allegations, including transfers of client monies and payment of referral fees, to be unproven.
The tribunal opted to reprimand the solicitor and reduced the costs payable to £9,500.
The tribunal acknowledged that the allegations had been properly brought and that the regulator had a duty to investigate issues of this kind.
But it also found the SRA could have dealt with the matters ‘more expeditiously and possibly in a different way’, bearing in mind Khan’s full and prompt admissions, the conditions already on his practising certificate and the lack of a danger to the public in future.
‘In particular, the tribunal found the investigation to be excessive in view of the fact that the firm has closed and the breaches were comparatively minor.’
Khan, who qualified in 2008, admitted keeping inaccurate records and failing to maintain properly written-up records. He also admitted breaching the rules by not issuing a bill of costs or written notification of costs incurred, failing to pay counsel in a specified time period and not having an accounting system.
But other charges were dismissed by the tribunal. An allegation of paying prohibited referral fees was unproven, as there was no evidence from the SRA that payments were made after the ban came into force in April 2013.
On an allegation of allowing transfers of client monies from office account to client account, the SDT found no wrongdoing.
There was no finding of a lack of integrity or failing to act in the interests of clients.
On a charge of misleading the SRA, the tribunal said that while his firm’s finances were difficult, Khan had paid his insurance and was not behind with rent, and that major problems did not occur until after he had applied to renew sole principal status.
Khan, a father of seven, offered 23 character references, including a number from former clients. Whilst restrictions were in place for his PC after March 2014, he worked for another firm for 10 months and brought in 200 clients, a fact which he said showed he retained a ‘considerable following’.