A solicitor who abandoned his firm has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for his ‘utterly disgraceful conduct’.
Mohammed Zahir Uddin, admitted to the roll in 2009 after taking the qualified lawyers transfer test in 2006, was the owner and sole director of Your Right Solicitors Ltd in London.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority intervened into the firm in November 2015, two days after a previous member of staff reported to the regulator that Uddin had gone missing.
In a case that appeared before the tribunal in November last year, Uddin was alleged to have: abandoned his practice; made 39 round-sum transfers from client account to office account totalling £58,900 without proper explanation or justification; failed to have specific accounting records; retained office money; make improper payments from the firm’s client account to his personal bank account; provided misleading information to the regulator, and advised a former secretary to ignore the regulator’s contact request.
Uddin was not present at the tribunal hearing and was not represented. The tribunal was satisfied the regulator took all reasonable steps to locate Uddin. Proceedings were served by substituted service, which included an advertisement in the Gazette. Therefore, Uddin was deemed to be aware of the final hearing taking place.
The tribunal found all the allegations proved, publishing its judgment this month.
The tribunal said Uddin failed to produce proper records and documents to ensure there was an accurate record of all dealings with client funds. Multiple round-sum transfers were made and there was no evidence that clients had been informed of costs taken from their funds.
It added: ‘The respondent had misled the [SRA’s investigation officer] and had attempted to prevent the IO from making contact with a former member of staff in relation to enquiries concerning accounting documents.
‘He had dishonestly taken £20,000 of client funds which was transferred to his personal bank account abroad without any explanation. The respondent had then subequently disappeared abdicating all responsibility for his practice and abandoned the firm.’
Uddin was the sole director of the firm, the sole signatory to the client account, and the firm’s compliance officers for legal practice, and finance and administration.
The judgment notes that there was no mitigation from Uddin. The only mitigating factor the tribunal could identify was that he had a ‘previously unblemished record’.
However, the tribunal said Uddin was ‘clearly a risk to the public who needed to be protected from him’, ordering him to be struck off the roll.
Uddin was also ordered to pay costs of and incidental to the application and enquiry in the sum of £14,500 after the tribunal considered the SRA’s schedule of costs, at £16,273.50, was too high.
The tribunal said: 'A reduction needed to be made not only for the time claimed for attending the hearing at seven hours, but also to the time spent for preparation and consideration of documents which were excessive at 42 hours in total.
‘The tribunal was not prepared to allow the cost of the applicant’s hotel accommodation which it considered to be unnecessary.’
A spokesperson for the SRA told the Gazette: 'As we acknowledged at the time, the costs requested needed to be reduced because the hearing was shorter than scheduled. We are committed to keeping costs down, while making sure our cases are put in the best possible way.'