A government solicitor has been struck off for dishonestly backdating documents in an attempt to cover up his mistake after missing a court deadline in a high-profile case on behalf of the Ministry of Justice.
Syed Tauseef Rizvi admitted that, while working at the Treasury Solicitor’s Department (TSol, now the Government Legal Department), he dishonestly backdated letters to the court and to his opponent, and sought to backdate a defence in order to resist an application for default judgment.
He also admitted that he failed to file and serve a defence on behalf of his client, the Ministry of Justice, or report to his employer that he had missed the deadline.
The case he was dealing with concerned restraint techniques used in prisons.
Mr Rizvi, who was born in 1981 and qualified in 2008, submitted in mitigation to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that the misconduct had been a one-off aberration in an otherwise unblemished career. He apologised to his client, the court and the tribunal and expressed deep remorse.
He worked for TSol on a temporary contract that lasted from January 2013 to March 2014. He described the period in which the misconduct took place as being exceptionally stressful.
Events included the death of his mother in January 2013, cultural pressures arising from his being the eldest son, completing a masters at BPP Law School, “being pressured by his family into an Islamic marriage” that only lasted a year, his workload – which he put at 120 cases but the tribunal found the true figure to be 80 – and the high-profile nature of the case in question. They had contributed to “life-altering stress”.
The tribunal recorded Mr Rizvi submitted “he only ever wanted to be a lawyer, and a good one at that” and had “worked tirelessly for clients and his various employers, largely in road traffic accident and personal injury claims”.
He subsequently worked for two years at Slater Gordon Solutions but he left after practising conditions were imposed on him.
However, deciding sanction the tribunal found the respondent to have “a high degree of culpability for his misconduct, including dishonesty”. It considered it likely that he had done what he did “out of personal embarrassment, rather than admitting he had missed a deadline”.
While his original action in writing to the court falsely claiming the defence had been filed was spontaneous, his subsequent actions were planned, the tribunal found.
At the time of the misconduct, Mr Rizvi was 32 years old and had been qualified for over five years – he “could not be said to be inexperienced or naïve”.
While the tribunal acknowledged he had “been undergoing a period of professional and personal stress”, it noted “this had not caused him to behave in a chaotic manner in relation to his other cases”.
The tribunal found there were no exceptional circumstances that would justify a lesser sanction than striking off, observing: “The respondent’s misconduct could not be described as a ‘one off’ or as occurring in a moment of madness. It was far from trivial misconduct.”
Mr Rizvi was ordered to pay £4,000 costs.