Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)
Varinder Singh Bhandal
Hearing 28 March 2022
Reasons 4 April 2022
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal ordered that the respondent should pay a fine of £10,000, and further that he should be subject to conditions imposed by the SDT for 24 months from 28 March, that he might not practise as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised or recognised body; be a compliance officer for legal practice or a compliance officer for finance and administration; or hold client money.
While in practice as a manager at Hawksley Law Ltd (trading as Claas Solicitors) between 30 January 2018 and 25 June 2021, the respondent had failed to operate a proper accounting system in that he had failed to: (i) maintain accurate books of account; produce and submit annual accountant’s reports to the SRA; or (ii) undertake regular and accurate reconciliations, thereby breaching:
Pre-25 November 2019: Principles 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 of the SRA Principles 2011 and rules 1.2(f), 29.1, 29.12 and 32A.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011.
25 November 2019 and beyond: Principles 2 and 7 of the SRA Principles 2019, rules 8.1, 8.3 and 12.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2019, paragraph 4.2 of the Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs 2019 and paragraph 8.1 of the Code of Conduct for Firms 2019.
The parties had invited the SDT to deal with the allegations against the respondent in accordance with an agreed statement of facts and outcome.
The SDT had reviewed all the material before it and was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the respondent’s admissions had been properly made. The respondent (notwithstanding that he was not the senior partner) was under a duty to ensure that the firm complied with its regulatory obligations. The firm had placed client monies at risk over an extended period. The respondent had made full and frank admissions. He had not been fully aware of the nature or the extent of the breaches.
A fine of £10,000 together with restrictions would adequately reflect the seriousness of the misconduct and would protect the public from any future harm.
The parties had proposed that the respondent be restricted for 24 months from (i) practising as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised or recognised body; (ii) acting as the compliance officer for legal practice or compliance office for finance and administration for any authorised or recognised body; and (iii) holding client money. Accordingly, the SDT approved the sanctions proposed by the parties.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £7,500.