The lord chief justice has lambasted the largest legal aid firm in the country for a failed application to transfer a representation order for a convicted drug supplier.
National firm Duncan Lewis tried on three separate occasions to convince the court that Sharif Sanjari could switch solicitors.
Sanjari had been represented by national firm Rahman Ravelli when he was convicted of conspiracy to import and supply cannabis following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court. He was sentenced to eight years and six months in jail. He has appealed his conviction.
In March 2014, the court also made an order under the Proceeds of Crime Act for the provision of financial information, alleging that Sanjari had made £1.6m from criminal activity.
Shanjari has made four attempts in court to change his solicitors, the first through national firm DPP Law and the next three through Duncan Lewis.
In October 2014, the Recorder of Birmingham refused the application to transfer and said the defendant’s criticisms of his first representatives could not justify the order.
A month later, Rahman Ravelli wrote to Birmingham Crown Court to say further complaints had been received, even while it was preparing for the proceeds of crime proceedings.
The firm said it would be placed in the difficult position of potentially giving ‘unpalatable’ advice to a client who had made numerous allegations against it.
The Recorder of Birmingham subsequently revoked the legal representation order and said Sanjari would no longer be represented at the public expense.
A further application in January this year was rejected, as was an attempt in February.
On the final occasion the Recorder of Birmingham refused Duncan Lewis’ request to be given copies of court documents, saying he could not allow disclosure of such information to third parties.
The case went to the High Court, with a hearing before lord chief justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd last month.
Duncan Lewis argued that while there was a threat of prison, there was a presumption that a person should be represented. The firm said the claimant had ‘lost confidence’ in his original representatives but that matters were ‘too complex’ for him to deal with without a lawyer.
In Sanjari, R (on the application of) v The Crown Court at Birmingham, Lord Thomas asserted there was ‘no substance’ in Duncan Lewis’ criticism that Rahman Ravelli had failed to instruct an expert and forensic accountant during the trial.
‘It is clear… that [Rahman Ravelli] attempted to assist the court to the best of their ability and with integrity,’ he added.
Lord Thomas said Duncan Lewis had failed to provide any proper grounds to justify a transfer.
‘The grounds put forward by Duncan Lewis lacked the objectivity, independent judgement and high standards of professional conduct that a court on such an application is entitled to expect of a solicitor.’
He added that a representation order does not give a defendant the right to act ‘in any way he chooses’, noting that ‘it comes with conditions which are necessary in the interests of justice’.
The Gazette has approached Duncan Lewis for comment.