Hearing 6 September 2016
Reasons 9 September 2016
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be struck off the roll.
By virtue of her conviction on four counts of providing immigration advice or immigration services in contravention of section 84 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, contrary to section 91(1) thereof, the respondent had:
(i) failed to uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice in breach of principle 1 of the SRA Principles 2011;
(ii) failed to act with integrity in breach of principle 2; and
(iii) failed to behave in a way which maintained the trust the public placed in her and in the provision of legal services, in breach of principle 6.
The respondent’s conduct had had a huge impact on the individuals who had instructed her. Parliament had decided who could provide immigration advice and despite the fact that the respondent could not lawfully provide those services she had done so.
The respondent had shown no insight and there were no mitigating circumstances. The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £1,238.
Hearing 14,15 July 2015, 22-24 February and 24 May 2016
Reasons 11 July 2016
The SDT ordered that the respondent should be suspended from practice as a solicitor for two years to commence on the 24 May 2016, and that upon the expiry of that fixed term of suspension she should be subject to the following conditions: (i) that she might not practise as a sole practitioner or sole manager or sole owner of an authorised body; and (ii) that she had to undertake a course or courses in professional ethics and the SRA Accounts Rules, approved by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority before applying for a practising certificate, with liberty to either party to apply to the SDT to vary those conditions.
The respondent had failed to effect a policy of insurance which indemnified her and/or the firm of ‘Mendes Solicitors’ against civil liabilities arising from her and/or that firm’s provision of legal services in private practice and had thereby breached principles 4 and 8 of the SRA Principles 2011; had failed to attain outcome O(1.8) of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011; had breached rule 5.1 of the Solicitors Indemnity Insurance Rules 2011; and had breached rule 4.1 of the Solicitors Indemnity Insurance Rules 2012.
The respondent had failed to remedy a breach of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 promptly upon discovery, in breach of rule 7 thereof.
The respondent had held money, other than client money, within the client account of a practice of which she was the principal in breach of rule 14.2 of the 2011 Rules.
The respondent had withdrawn money in relation to a particular client from the general client account of a practice of which she was the principal which exceeded the amount of money held on behalf of that client in that account in breach of rule 20.6 of the 2011 Rules.
The respondent had failed to keep accounting records properly written up to show her dealings with client money received, held or paid by her from 30 November 2010 in breach of rule 32(1) of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998 (in relation to the period up to 5 October 2011) and rule 29.1 of the 2011 Rules (thereafter).
The respondent had failed, at any time from 30 November 2010 onwards, to carry out the comparisons and reconciliations required by rule 32(7) of the 1998 Rules (in relation to the period up to 5 October 2011) and rule 29.12 of the 2011 Rules (thereafter).
The respondent had failed to deliver an accountant’s report to the SRA in relation to a practice of which she was the principal for any of its accounting periods from June 2011 onwards, in breach of rules 33.1 and 33.5 of the 2011 Rules.
The respondent had practised as a solicitor from offices in England and Wales otherwise than in a manner permitted by rule 12.01 Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007 (up to 5 October 2011) and rule 1.1 of the Practice Framework Rules 2011 (after that date).
The respondent had acted for and advised individuals in immigration matters. Such clients were almost always in a vulnerable position. That was why the practise of immigration law was particularly closely regulated.
The respondent’s evidence was highly unreliable. She had shown no insight. The SDT had rarely seen such cavalier disregard for professional obligations and proper standards of conduct.
A considerable period of suspension, combined with a requirement on the respondent to undergo suitable training before being allowed a practising certificate, would be appropriate and proportionate.
Further, she should not be permitted to operate as a sole practitioner as she had shown she was unable to run a solicitors’ firm in accordance with proper standards.
The respondent was ordered to pay costs of £16,300 (including the costs order made in July 2015).