Decisions filed recently with the Law Society (which may be subject to appeal)
Biplab Kumar Poddar
Hearings 17-18 March, 7-8 September 2020
Reasons 20 October 2020
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be suspended from practice for an indefinite period from 8 September 2020.
The respondent had accepted instructions on an international transaction which had involved accepting £122,160.87 into his firm’s client account and subsequently paying out £112,000 of those funds to various third parties. He had failed to apply appropriate customer due diligence measures and had failed to undertake appropriate ongoing monitoring of the business relationship, thereby failing to achieve outcome 7.5 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, and breaching principles 6, 7 and 8 of the SRA Principles 2011.
He had accepted money into his client account, which he had then paid out to third parties, when there was no underlying legal transaction, thereby breaching rule 14.5 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 and principle 6.
He had facilitated a transaction bearing the hallmarks of being dubious, thereby breaching principles 2, 3, 6 and 8.
He had paid out £30,007.45 to a third party on behalf of a client, from funds held for the client from the sale of a property on which his instructions regarding his legal work had concluded, thereby breaching rule 14.5 of the rules and principle 6.
The respondent had expected a large fee for his involvement in the international transaction matter and it was that which had caused him to pursue a path fraught with risk and one in which he had wilfully ignored the AML Regulations 2007 and his firm’s own AML policy.
He had never stopped to consider that the parties had had hidden and vested interests and had chosen him, a solicitor with no practical experience in international transactions of high value, as their puppet, and someone who would not ask the searching and probing questions which were required in those circumstances. Solicitors should be aware of their limitations and proceed with extreme caution in matters outside their normal range of work.
While the respondent’s failure to follow the rules and his poor decisions had been in issue, his honesty had never been in question.
An indefinite suspension was a fair and proportionate sanction and would allow the respondent a period of reflection on and insight into his conduct, and time for further training to remove the risk of his harming the public or the reputation of the profession.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £26,000.
Adrian Anthony Ring
Hearings 12-16 October 2020
Reasons 18 December 2020
The SDT ordered that the respondent should pay a fine of £2,000.
While in practice as a partner at Lawrence Stephens Solicitors, in relation to the litigation he was conducting on behalf of client A, the respondent had made misleading statements to the court in a witness statement and in doing so had breached principles 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 of the SRA Principles 2011.
The respondent’s misconduct had been the result of an inadvertent error and carelessness; there had been no planning; there had been no financial motivation, and there had been no breach of trust, though there had been a breach of duty to the court. It was a single episode of brief duration in an unblemished career.
The respondent had shown insight in that he recognised he had fallen below the appropriate standard; he had made open and frank admissions, and he had co-operated with the regulator.
There was no evidence of harm to any individual, and the extent to which anyone had actually been misled was unclear.
The reputation of the profession had inevitably been harmed by the SDT’s findings that the respondent had breached principles 1, 2 and 6.
The appropriate sanction was a financial penalty and the appropriate level was Level 1. The matter could have been dealt with internally by the applicant. In the absence of any evidence of actual harm having been caused and the fact that the respondent had been careless rather than reckless, Level 1 was an appropriate level of fine band, taking into account the respondent’s personal circumstances. In the absence of those personal circumstances, the matter would have been placed in Level 2.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £5,000. The applicant was ordered to pay the respondent’s costs of the present hearing, fixed in the sum of £27,000.
On 7 December 2020, the Adjudication Panel resolved to intervene into the firm Apex Solicitors Limited, formerly based at Office 16, Bradford Chambers Business Park, New Lane, Laisterdyke, Bradford West Yorkshire, BD4 8BX.
The grounds of intervention into Apex Solicitors Limited were: it was necessary to intervene to protect the interests of clients or former clients, the interests of beneficiaries of any trust, of which the firm is or was a trustee, or the interests of beneficiaries of any trust of which a person who is or was a manager or employee of the firm is or was a trustee in that person’s capacity as a manager or employee (paragraph 32(1)(e) Schedule 2 Administration of Justice Act 1985) as amended)).
John Owen of Gordons LLP, 1 New Augustus Street, Bradford BD1 5LL; tel: 0113 227 2116; email: email@example.com has been appointed to act as the Society’s agent.