SRA fines family lawyer for failing to record cash payments

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29 March 2016


Cash

Solicitor said cash was retained in only one case

A family lawyer who failed to record cash payments from clients has been fined £2,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The incidents happened before Shema Ali was dismissed from her job as solicitor at Bolton firm Cyril Morris Arkwright (CMA) five years ago.

According to a regulatory settlement agreement, published by the SRA last week, Ms Ali acted for four clients in 2011, who paid her sums in cash in return for written receipts. The firm’s client account ledger contained no entries for any of the payments.

The SRA said one client paid Ms Ali a total of £600 in cash for “child contact and financial matters”, and later for his divorce, and another paid the solicitor £200 in cash for advice on a consent order.

Ms Ali admitted receiving cash payments from clients, and although she gave them written receipts, failing to obtain receipts from her firm’s accounts department. The solicitor said that only in the case of the consent order had she “inadvertently retained” the cash.

The SRA said Ms Ali had also breached an undertaking while acting for a divorce client. The regulator said it was agreed that in return for the transfer of the former matrimonial home to the client’s sole name, he would pay his wife £30,000.

Ms Ali was alleged to have given an undertaking that payment would be made within 14 days of completion of the transfer.

The SRA said: “Mrs Ali admits that she gave an undertaking in circumstances where she was neither in a position of seniority to do so nor in a position whereby she was in control of the actions required to fulfil the terms of the undertaking.

“In doing so, Mrs Ali breached the firm’s terms relating to the giving of undertakings. Mrs Ali accepts that the undertaking was broken and her actions in this regard could be construed as being reckless.”

However, the SRA it had not alleged dishonesty or misappropriation of client monies, and there was no evidence that the solicitor “intentionally failed” to keep the terms of the undertaking.

The regulator said that during the course of its investigation, Ms Ali described herself as suffering from ill health, which had an impact on her work.

As well as the fine, the solicitor agreed to pay costs of £1,350, and to conditions being imposed on her practising certificate, preventing her from being involved with client money.

In a separate settlement agreement published last week, a former director and head of private client at West Midlands firm Waldrons, Trudy Pratt, agreed to remove herself from the roll within 28 days and pay costs of £1,350.

Ms Pratt, who ceased practising in 2013, was accused by the SRA of “poor administration and inadequate file management on a number of client matters where she managed her clients’ financial affairs under powers of attorney”.

Ms Pratt was alleged not to have opened client ledgers, made cash withdrawals from clients’ bank accounts without recording them properly and on one client matter not paid care home fees, council tax and utility bills on time, “which led to enforcement action”.

She was also alleged to have failed to prepare adequate schedules of assets, maximise the value of her clients’ assets and collect all the monies owed to the estates.

Ms Pratt admitted the allegations. The SRA said she made “no personal benefit or financial gain from any client matters” as well as suffering from “significant ill health” at the time of the incidents, which had not improved.

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