Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)

Gary James Burns

Application 12043-2020

Admitted 2004

Hearing 6 October 2020

Reasons 25 January 2021

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.

While in practice as a solicitor at Nalders LLP, the respondent had made statements to mortgage lender A in respect of progress purportedly being made in respect of registering its charge over property A, which were untrue and which he knew, or ought to have known, were untrue, thereby breaching principles 2, 4 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011. He had acted dishonestly.

The respondent had made statements to client B and client B’s agent in respect of the letting of property B, which were untrue and which he knew, or ought to have known, were untrue, thereby breaching principles 2, 4 and 6. He had acted dishonestly.

He had given a date on Stamp Duty Land Tax and HM Land Registry forms which was false and which he knew, or ought to have known, was false, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6. He had acted dishonestly.

He had made statements to his employer regarding the progress of conveyancing matters, which were untrue and which he knew, or ought to have known, were untrue, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6. He had acted dishonestly.

He had failed to complete post-completion formalities in respect of his client files promptly or at all, thereby breaching principles 4, 5 and 6.

The motivation for the respondent’s conduct was to cover up the lack of progress made on his clients’ matters. It had been planned as it involved numerous deliberate acts over a period of several months.

While the respondent had made repeated reference to stress, anxiety and pressure, he had been aware of the untruthful statements he had provided. His culpability was high.

While the clients’ positions had been rectified, the false information and the delay in progress of their matters amounted to harm. The firm itself was put to the time and expense of undertaking remedial action and had been caused reputational harm. The harm to the profession from such conduct was also significant.

No supporting medical evidence had been provided, but the SDT had given due weight and consideration to the respondent’s account of the stress, anxiety, pressure and very difficult personal circumstances he had described. It sympathised and recognised, of course, the impact that personal pressures could have on professional life. Findings of dishonesty had nevertheless been made.

The SDT was not persuaded that there were any exceptional factors such that the normal penalty would not be appropriate.

The appropriate sanction was strike-off from the roll.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £9,553.

Karamjeet Kaur and Yasar Malik

Application 12053-2020

Hearing 21 December 2020

Reasons 12 January 2021

The SDT ordered that the first respondent (admitted 1999) should be struck off the roll.

While in practice as the sole principal at Quick Solicitors, the first respondent had caused or allowed debit balances on client ledgers in the sum of at least £53,248.27, in breach of rules 20.1 and 20.6 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011, and principles 6 and 10 of the SRA Principles 2011.

She had caused or allowed unpaid professional disbursements to be held on the office account in the sum of at least £4,431, in breach of rules 17.1(b)(ii) of the rules and principles 6 and 10.

She had caused or allowed two payments to be made from the client bank account otherwise than in accordance with rule 20.1 of the rules, and in breach of rule 20.1 of the rules and principle 10.

She had failed to carry out reconciliations of the firm’s client bank account, in breach of rules 1.2(e) and 29.12 of the rules, and principles 6, 8 and 10. She had acted recklessly.

She had operated, or allowed the operation of, a suspense ledger account otherwise in accordance with rule 29.25 of the rules, and in breach of rule 29.25 of the rules and principle 8.

She had caused or allowed the payment of interest into the client bank account otherwise in accordance with rule 14.2 of the rules, which she had caused or allowed to be held on a suspense ledger account otherwise in accordance with rule 29.25 of the rules, thereby breaching rules 14.2 and 29.25 of the rules. She had acted recklessly.

She had failed to keep accounting records properly written up and failed to appropriately record all dealings with client money on client ledgers, thereby breaching rules 29.1, 29.2 and 29.4 of the rules and principle 10. She had acted recklessly.

She had allowed the firm to operate without a compliance officer for finance and administration, in breach of rule 8.5(d) of the SRA Authorisation Rules 2011, rule 8.1 of the SRA Authorisation of Firms Rules 2019, principle 8 and rule 2.1(a) of the SRA Code of Conduct for Firms (SCCF).

She had stated on the firm’s PII renewal that Malik was the firm’s compliance officer for finance and administration, which was untrue and liable to mislead and which she knew, or ought to have known, was liable to have that effect at the time, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6.

She had provided information to the firm’s reporting accountants, and informed a forensic investigation officer employed by the SRA, that Malik was the firm’s COFA, which was untrue and liable to mislead and which she knew, or ought to have known, was liable to have that effect at the time, thereby breaching principles 2 and 5 of the SRA Principles 2019.

She had not complied, in relation to the firm’s accountant’s report for 2018/2019, with the condition on her practising certificate as to the submission of an accountant’s report by 31 November 2019, thereby breaching principles 2 and 5 of the 2019 Principles.

She had continued to fail to keep accounting records properly written up and failed to appropriately record all dealings with client money on client ledgers, thereby breaching rules 29.1, 29.2 and 29.4 of the rules, principles 8 and 10 of the 2011 Principles, rule 8.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules (2019), rules 2.1(a) and 2.2 of the SCCF, and rule 4.2 of the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs. She had acted recklessly.

The parties had invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with a statement of agreed facts and proposed outcome.

The SDT was satisfied that the first respondent’s admissions had been properly made.

The first respondent had failed to execute her role as the steward of client monies with any diligence. Further, having been made aware of the applicant’s concerns as to her financial management of the firm, she had failed to take adequate, if any, steps to address them. Her culpability for her misconduct was very high. Her reckless mismanagement of the firm’s finances had caused significant harm to the reputation of the profession. The only appropriate and proportionate sanction was to strike the first respondent off the roll.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £11,000.

The SDT ordered that as from 21 December 2020 except in accordance with Law Society permission (i) no solicitor should employ or remunerate Yasar Malik in connection with his practice as a solicitor; (ii) no employee of a solicitor should employ or remunerate him in connection with the solicitor’s practice; (iii) no recognised body should employ or remunerate him; (iv) no manager or employee of a recognised body should employ or remunerate him in connection with the business of that body; (v) no recognised body or manager or employee of such a body should permit him to be a manager of the body; and (vi) no recognised body or manager or employee of such a body should permit him to have an interest in the body.

Malik was not a solicitor. He was employed by Quick Solicitors from about 2011 and he was its COFA from 16 October 2017. In his capacity as the COFA at the firm, he had failed to ensure or take adequate steps to ensure compliance with the firm’s regulatory obligations under the SRA Accounts Rules 2011, in breach of his obligations under rule 8.5 of the SRA Authorisation Rules 2011, and principles 6 and 7 of the SRA Principles 2011. He had been manifestly incompetent.

The parties had invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against Malik in accordance with the statement of agreed facts and outcome.

The SDT had reviewed all the material before it and was satisfied that Malik’s admissions had been properly made.

Malik had been aware both of the firm’s financial position and the SRA investigation when he was appointed as the COFA. He had made no enquiries to satisfy himself as to the firm’s financial position or management generally.

He had been unable to carry out a number of the requirements of a COFA, and had failed to ensure the firm’s compliance with the rules. Further, he had failed to report any breaches of the rules as he was required to do.

Malik had been guilty of conduct of such a nature that it was undesirable for him to be involved in a legal practice except in accordance with the permission of the SRA. The SDT considered that the sanction proposed by the parties was reasonable and proportionate.

Malik was ordered to pay costs of £2,500.

Peter Collins Maku-Kemi

Application 12118-2020

Admitted 2013

Hearings 30 November - 1 December 2020

Reasons 6 January 2021

The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.

The respondent (admitted 2013) had, while in practice as a solicitor at Jesuis Solicitors, in relation to client 2, submitted or allowed to be submitted to the First Tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal, in grounds of appeal and/or a skeleton argument, that a certain provision under the Penal Code Act of Uganda had been enacted into Ugandan Law when he knew that it had not been, or had no adequate reason to believe that it had been, thereby breaching principles 1, 2, 4 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011. He had acted dishonestly.

In relation to client 3’s appeal against a Home Office refusal decision, he had misled the First Tier Tribunal when he represented or allowed it to be represented to the tribunal that client 3 had only received the Home Office Notice on 12 July 2014, when client 3 had received the Notice by 8 July 2014, thereby breaching principles 1, 2 and 6 of the 2011 Principles. He had acted dishonestly.

The starting point for the SDT in considering sanction was a striking-off order, which could only be avoided if exceptional circumstances were found.

The respondent’s inexperience at the material time did not amount to an exceptional circumstance. The dishonesty found proved related to the respondent having breached a fundamental tenet of the profession in that he had misled the court on three occasions.

The respondent had not demonstrated insight into his misconduct. He had been a thoroughly unimpressive witness. His evidence had changed from question to question and he had only resiled from the disingenuous accounts given when confronted with contemporaneous documentary evidence which vitiated his position. There were, therefore, no exceptional circumstances present to militate against a striking-off order.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £15,000.

Ebru Atas

Application 12136-2020

Admitted 2017

Hearing 2 February 2021

Reasons 8 February 2021

The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.

The respondent had improperly caused or allowed client A to make payments to her for the firm’s fees totalling approximately £1,635, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011. She had acted dishonestly.

She had improperly caused or allowed client B to make payments to her for the firm’s fees totalling approximately £1,630, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6. She had acted dishonestly.

She had improperly created or caused to be created a decree absolute in respect of client B’s matter which was false, thereby breaching principles 2, 4 and 6. She had acted dishonestly.

She had improperly certified a copy of a decree absolute in respect of client B’s matter in circumstances when she knew the decree absolute was false, thereby breaching principles 2 and 6. She had acted dishonestly.

The parties had invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with a statement of agreed facts and outcome. The parties submitted that the outcome proposed was consistent with the SDT’s Guidance Note on Sanctions.

The SDT had paid significant regard to the agreement between the parties that an order striking the respondent off the roll of solicitors was required to (a) protect the public from harm and (b) maintain and uphold the reputation of the legal profession.The inescapable outcome, given the broad range of dishonest behaviour including the falsification of a court document, was a striking-off order, absent any exceptional circumstances.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £5,000.

Arthur Roger Brooks

Application 12147-2020

Admitted 1973

Hearing 26 January 2021

Reasons 8 February 2021

The SDT ordered that the respondent should pay a fine of £10,000.

The respondent had failed to carry out adequate customer due diligence on the proprietor of the property, person A, thereby breaching principles 6 and 8 of the SRA Principles 2011, and failing to achieve outcome 7.5 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.

He had failed to obtain instructions from person A and had failed to ensure person A agreed to the transfer of the title of the property to person B, thereby breaching principles 4, 6 & 10, and failing to achieve outcomes 1.2 and 3.6 of the code.

The parties had invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with a statement of agreed facts and outcome.

It was to the respondent’s credit that he had made unequivocal admissions to allegations,  and he had dealt in a frank and co-operative manner with the applicant, demonstrating the requisite level of insight into his professional responsibilities.

It appeared to be an isolated incident in an otherwise long and unblemished career. The respondent had been well regarded and had hitherto provided a good standard of work and advice to his clients. However, the circumstances presented in the present case were inherently serious and the harm great.

The respondent had retired from practice following the orderly closure of his firm; he had not renewed his practising certificate and had no intention of doing so in the future. The prospect of repetition was therefore slight.

The appropriate sanction was a fine of £10,000, and the SDT agreed to approve the agreed outcome in the terms proposed.

The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £5,000.

Watson Legal Limited

On 18 February 2021, the Adjudication Panel resolved to intervene into Watson Legal Limited and the into the practice of Sarah Watson at the firm, which was formerly based at Hill Farm, Church Lane, Ford End, Chelmsford CM3 1LH.

The grounds of intervention in relation to Sarah Watson were:

  • Watson had failed to comply with the SRA Principles and the SRA Accounts Rules, which are rules made under sections 31 and 32 of the Solicitors Act 1974 (paragraph 1(1)(c) of schedule 1 – part I to the Solicitors Act 1974).

The grounds of intervention in relation to Watson Legal Limited were:

  • Watson as manager of the firm, and the firm itself have failed to comply with the SRA Principles and the SRA Accounts Rules which are rules applicable to them by virtue of Section 9 of the Administration of Justice Act 1985 (paragraph 32(1)(a) of schedule 2 of that act).

Marion Vesey of Shacklocks LLP, St Peter’s House, Bridge Street, Mansfield NG18 1AL; tel: 01623 423073; email: interventionwatson@shacklocks.co.uk; has been appointed to act as the Society’s agent.

Watson’s practising certificate is suspended as a result of the intervention decision.