Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)
Christopher Ka Ki Cheng
Hearing 15 April 2020
Reasons 16 June 2020
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.
While in practice as a solicitor of Farani Javid Taylor solicitors, in client matter AS, the respondent had falsified and/or confected documents, thereby breaching principles 2, 4 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011. He had acted dishonestly.
In client matter AS, the respondent had misled client AS about the status of his application, and had thereby breached principles 2, 4, 5 and 6. He had acted dishonestly.
In approximately 17 client matters, the respondent had failed to open a client file and/or failed to make or progress the client’s immigration application, despite telling the client that he would do so, and thereby breached principles 4, 5 and 6.
The respondent had failed to co-operate with the applicant’s investigation of his conduct and had thereby breached principle 7, and failed to achieve outcomes 10.8 and 10.9 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.
The motivation for the respondent’s conduct was to cover his tracks for failures to progress his clients’ matters.
The respondent had failed to engage with his regulator over a significant period of time. The SDT assessed his culpability as high.
The respondent’s conduct represented a complete departure from the probity required of all solicitors. Despite the respondent stating that he had never intended any adverse impact on anyone, the SDT considered that such harm was entirely foreseeable. The harm to the profession from such conduct was also significant.
The respondent had belatedly demonstrated insight into his misconduct and expressed remorse.
The findings against him, including dishonesty, required that the appropriate sanction was to strike his name from the roll.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £15,000.
Munpreet Singh Virdee
Hearing 13 July 2020
Reasons 3 August 2020
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.
The respondent, a former solicitor in the firm of Reemans Solicitors Limited, had, by allowing debit balances on three suspense ledgers and an historic debit balance to arise totalling £8,522.37, breached principles 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 of the SRA Principles 2011, rules 1, 6, 7.1 and 7.2 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011, and failed to achieve outcomes 1.1 and 1.2 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011. He had acted dishonestly.
He had deliberately falsified the consideration figures on 36 Stamp Duty Land Tax forms with the intention of deliberately underpaying stamp duty land tax on those transactions, in breach of principles 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10, rules 1 and 6 of the rules, and outcomes 1.1 and 1.2. He had acted dishonestly.
By making improper transfers from the client account to the office bank account of the firm between 2012 and 2016, of client money and improper payments from the client bank account of the firm due to HM Revenue & Customs amounting to £311,862.50, he had breached principles 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10, rules 1 and 6 of the rules, and had failed to achieve outcomes 1.1 and 1.2. He had acted dishonestly.
By utilising client money for the purpose of enabling the firm to trade between 2012 and 2016, he had breached principles 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10, rules 1, 6, 7.1 and 7.2 of the rules, and failed to achieve outcomes 1.1 and 1.2. He had acted dishonestly.
In his capacity as the compliance officer for finance and administration of the firm at the material time, he had not reported the material breaches of the accounts rules and the code set out above, in breach of rule 8.5 of the Authorisation Rules 2011, breaching principles 2, 6, 7, 8 and 10, and thereby failing to achieve outcome 10.3. He had acted dishonestly.
The respondent was an experienced solicitor whose misconduct had arisen from planned and deliberate acts. He had caused significant harm, both to his clients and to the reputation of the profession. His conduct was aggravated by his proven dishonesty.
No circumstances had been found or submitted that were enough to bring the case in line with the residual exceptional circumstances category referred to in the case of Sharma, in which the court had said ‘save in exceptional circumstances, a finding of dishonesty will lead to the solicitor being struck off the roll.’
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £21,752.
Hearing 16 June 2020
Reasons 21 July 2020
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be suspended from practice as a solicitor for two years from 16 June 2020. Upon the expiry of that term of suspension, the respondent should be subject to the following conditions. The respondent might not (i) practise as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised or recognised body; or as a freelance solicitor; or as a solicitor in an unregulated organisation; (ii) be a partner or member of a limited liability partnership, legal disciplinary practice or alternative business structure or other authorised or recognised body; (iii) be a head of legal practice/compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) or a head of finance and administration/compliance officer for finance and administration (COFA); (iv) hold client money; (v) be a signatory on any client account; or (vi) work as a solicitor other than in employment approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. He should immediately inform any actual or prospective employer of those restrictions and the reason for their imposition; with liberty for either party to apply to vary those conditions.
While in practice as a solicitor at ABM Solicitors and Advocates (the firm), the respondent had practised as a solicitor through an unauthorised body, namely the firm, and in so doing had held himself out to the public as a solicitor practising in a recognised body regulated by the SRA, thereby breaching principles 2, 6 and 7 of the SRA Principles 2011, and rule 1.1 of the SRA Practice Framework Rules 2011. He had caused or allowed the employment of a person, M, whose name had been struck off the roll in connection with his practice, and in doing so had breached principles 2, 6 and 7, and section 41(1) of the Solicitors Act 1974. He had caused, allowed or failed to prevent M from playing a significant role in the activities of the firm, thereby breaching principles 2, 3, 6 and 8.
He had failed to establish proper accounting systems, and proper internal controls over those systems, to ensure compliance with the SRA Accounts Rules 2011, failed to keep proper accounting records and failed to replace a shortfall arising from those failings, promptly or at all, thereby breaching rules 1.2(c), (e) and (f), 7, 14.3, 20.6, 21.2, 29.1, 29.12 and 29.14, 27 and 29.2 of the accounts rules. He had failed to run the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound risk management principles in that he had failed to have proper accounting systems in place and to keep proper accounting records; failed to ensure that the firm’s professional indemnity insurers were notified that the former sole equity partner in the firm had been struck off the roll; failed to ensure that the firm’s professional indemnity insurers had been notified that the firm was employing a person whose name had been struck off the roll; and allowed the firm to operate without a designated approved COLP and COFA; and failed to notify the SRA of relevant changes about interest holders in the firm, thereby breaching principles 6 and 8, and rules 8.5(b) and (d), 8.7(c) and 24.2(b)(i) and (ii) of the Authorisation Rules 2011, and rule 10 of the framework rules.
The parties applied for the matter to be dealt with by way of the agreed outcome procedure.
The respondent had found himself in charge of a firm with no real understanding of the roles of a COLP or COFA, and had taken on the position of senior partner without understanding the role. There was no allegation of dishonesty. However, not understanding what he had got himself into did not excuse the respondent’s conduct, which had caused a great deal of harm. Employing a struck-off solicitor and allowing that solicitor to carry out unreserved activities as well as continue to have access to the firm’s client account was a very serious matter.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £24,500.
Kingly Solicitors Ltd
The adjudication panel resolved to intervene into Kingly Solicitors Limited, trading as Richard Herne & Co, Hancock Quins, Ray Nixon Brown, Austin Ray, Beesons, Coles Solicitors, Hughmans Solicitors and Giffen Couch & Archer. The SRA intervened on 12 August 2020 into the practices of Simon Hutcheson, Simon Peacock and Champika Ratnayake at Kingly Solicitors Limited and into the licensed body Kingly Solicitors Limited (its offices are listed below.)
The grounds of intervention into the practices of Hutcheson, Peacock and Ratnayake were: they had failed to comply with rules – paragraph 1(1)(c) of schedule 1, Solicitors Act 1974.
The grounds of intervention into Kingly Solicitors Limited were: there was reason to suspect dishonesty by Nurul Miah as a manager of the firm in connection with the firm’s business, or any trust of which the firm is or was a trustee, or any trust of which Miah is or was a trustee in his capacity as a manager – paragraph 1(2)(d) of schedule 14, Legal Services Act 2007; and the firm had not complied with one or more of the terms of its licence – paragraph 1(2)(a) of schedule 14, Legal Services Act 2007. The practising certificates of Hutcheson, Peacock and Ratnayake are suspended by reason of the intervention.
The appointed agents are: James Dunn of Devonshires Solicitors LLP, 30 Finsbury Circus, London EC2M 7DT; tel: 0207 065 1830; email: email@example.com (for offices in London and the south-east); and John Owen of Gordons LLP, 1 New Augustus Street, Bradford BD1 5LL; tel: 0113 227 0360; email: firstname.lastname@example.org (for offices in Yorkshire and the north-east).
The branch offices and trading names of Kingly Solicitors Ltd are: T/A Richard Herne & Co, 113 High Street, Staple Hill, Bristol BS16 5HF (this office is now closed); T/A Hancock Quins, 22 Station Road, Watford WD17 1ER; T/A Austin Ray, 74-76 Queensway, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK2 2SA; T/A Ray Nixon Brown, 4 & 6 Church Square, Leighton Buzzard LU7 1AE; GC&A Limited (Giffen Couch & Archer), Bridge House, Bridge Street, Leighton Buzzard LU7 1EB; 52–54 Market Place Market Weighton YO43 3AL; 2 Duck Hill, Ripon HG4 1BL; Oriel House, Calverts Lane, Stockton on Tees TS18 1SW; 96 Micklegate York YO1 6JX; Century House, Thornfield Business Park, Standard Way, Northallerton DL6 2XQ; 54 Station Road, Redcar TS10 1AG; 5 Victoria Avenue, Harrogate HG1 1EQ; and Hughmans Solicitors, First Floor Holborn Gate, 330 High Holborn, London WC1V 7QT.