A tribunal has struck off a veteran solicitor who could not explain where thousands of pounds of clients’ money had gone. Roland Cassam, a solicitor for 40 years and a principal at Cardiff-based conveyancing firm Temple Law, had received significant funds from clients which were intended to redeem mortgages.
But the funds were never transferred and a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard the solicitor and his firm were left with a six-figure sum unaccounted for.
The tribunal said his motivation for misusing client money, and for failing to maintain proper accounts, was unclear, although Cassam had stated he had no intention permanently to deprive anyone of money.
In a judgment published this week, the tribunal suggested this could have been a case where there was a loss of control and one hole in the client account was plugged with other money: at best he had ‘borrowed’ client money and used it inappropriately.
The judgment added: ‘This was forbidden; client money was sacrosanct and should only be used for the client’s purposes. Whilst the general failure to maintain accounts may have been unplanned, the specific transfer and use of client money was clearly planned rather than spontaneous.’
An investigation into the firm in February 2015 indicated the most recent bank account reconciliation offered was from August 2013. Practice rules require them to be carried out every five weeks.
Both Cassam and his partner, Peter Rhidian Lewis, accepted their failure to keep the books of account properly written up.
Crucially, investigators found two conveyancing files where money had come into the client account but appeared to have vanished.
Towards the end of 2014, the firm received £127,000 in sale proceeds from one client and £21,165 in deposit monies from another. The total cash held in the bank for these matters, as at 31 December 2014, was just £784.
Both Cassam and Lewis admitted to a series of accounting breaches, including failing to keep proper records. The pair had also been reprimanded in 2010 after five breaches of accounts rules.
The tribunal heard that Lewis, the firm’s compliance officer, had been distracted by pursuing other business interests and effectively stopped fee earning in 2013. He was found to have failed to discharge his duties and was fined £3,000, with a £3,000 costs order.
Cassam was found to have known he was acting dishonestly in transactions, knowing a mortgage had not been redeemed despite holding the funds for it. The tribunal said an honest solicitor would have provided a truthful account of the facts, but he had insisted to investigators the mortgage was redeemed, even when he knew that was not the case. He had stated his determination to restore the balance of any shortfall in the client account.
As well as being struck off, Cassam was ordered to pay £15,575 in costs.