A young solicitor who amended an email to give a client a false impression of when it was sent has avoided being struck off for what a tribunal described as a “moment of madness”.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said the actions of Harina Zoey Panesar-Jagdev, who was two years qualified at the time, fell into the small category of cases where dishonesty did not lead to being struck off the roll.
“The tribunal accepted that this had been a fleeting or momentary lapse of judgement which had lasted a very brief period of time before discovery and also noted that [she] had promptly self-reported the incident.
“On that basis, this case was distinct from other cases of dishonesty in which hours, days and weeks had gone by before the dishonesty had come to light.”
Ms Panesar-Jagdev, 31, qualified in March 2016 and at the time was a residential conveyancer at Bradford firm LCF Residential.
In August 2018, while acting for ‘Client A’ on the sale of a leasehold flat, she accidentally sent an email meant for the property’s managing agent to another, unconnected client with a similar email address, copied to Client A.
Nine days later, she sent a chaser email, again wrongly addressed and copied to Client A. The unintended recipient drew her attention to the mistake a few minutes later.
Ms Panesar-Jagdev amended the copy of the original email on the firm’s system with the correct address to ensure no further messages were wrongly sent.
Later that morning, Client A asked how many emails had been sent to the wrong address out of concern that the error might have delayed the sale.
Ms Panesar-Jagdev reassured Client A that the error had been rectified promptly each time. She then created a further version of the original email that had the correct address and omitted Client A from the ‘cc’ field.
She emailed a screen shot of this to the client as confirmation that she had corrected her mistake on 13 August.
Ms Panesar-Jagdev admitted what she had done to her supervisor the following day. The supervisor and client were supportive of her in correspondence with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SRA had agreed with the solicitor that she should be suspended for six months and submitted the sanction for the SDT for approval on the papers. But given the fact that dishonesty was involved, the SDT required oral submissions.
The SDT recorded Ms Panesar-Jagdev’s counsel as saying this was “as inept an example” of dishonesty as it could be “and more akin to the ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse than a calculated plot to conceal dishonesty of a protracted and ongoing nature”.
“This analogy was not intended make light of the matter, which was serious, but to place it in its proper context.”
He argued that Ms Panesar-Jagdev was a young solicitor who had learned from her mistake and was “not a threat to the public or to the honour of the profession”.
In its submissions, the SRA noted that, despite what had happened, LCF had sought to persuade Ms Panesar-Jagdev to stay when she handed in her notice soon after to join another firm, while that employer was aware of what had happened and supported her.
Agreeing to the six-month suspension, the tribunal accepted that this had been “a single course of conduct which took place in a period of less than an hour”.
The solicitor had not benefitted from her actions and there had been no adverse effect on the client, who was not deceived by her actions, or on the transaction.
“The tribunal took the view that this was a paradigm example of a ‘moment of madness’ and it was minded to accede to the joint submissions of the parties that there existed exceptional circumstances in the respondent’s case, such that this was a matter which fell into the small residual category of cases for which strike off from the roll would be a disproportionate sanction.”
Suspension was the appropriate sanction “as public confidence in the profession demanded no lesser sanction to protect both the public and the reputation of the legal profession”.
Ms Panesar-Jagdev was also ordered to pay costs of £1,680.