High Court rejects appeal from sham marriages solicitor

Sham marriage: Reporter’s conduct was not entrapment

The High Court has rejected an appeal from a solicitor struck off twice by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) after being recorded by an undercover TV reporter giving advice on what he knew was a sham marriage.

Mr Justice Morris rejected multiple grounds of appeal put forward by Zulfiqar Ali, who represented himself.

One of Mr Ali’s arguments was that members of the SDT had not seen the TV documentary featuring the undercover interview, although Morris J said they had seen the “full transcript of the two meetings” from which the extracts in the programme were taken.

Morris J said he could not see “how viewing the TV programme, which included only a very small part of those meetings, would have assisted the tribunal”.

The judge said that he declined to watch it, because the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) accepted that Mr Ali had “no connection” with the other people featured in it.

Furthermore, “in so far as this amounted to the admission of fresh evidence”, Mr Ali’s request that TV programme was shown did not satisfy the case law – it was available to the SDT had it wanted and “would not have had an important influence on the result of the case”.

The TV documentary aired in July 2015 involved Mr Ali and other solicitors being surreptitiously recorded discussing sham marriages with purported clients who were actually undercover reporters.

The SRA only became aware of it in February 2017 and used a court order to obtain the footage from the production company.

The reporter asked Mr Ali how he could extend his stay in the UK and ultimately secure permanent residency or citizenship by means of a sham marriage.

The High Court heard that Mr Ali, admitted in 2010, was authorised as a sole practitioner in June 2015, practising as ZA Solicitors.

The SRA first brought charges of professional misconduct against him after another law firm complained of misconduct relating to conveyancing transactions and the purchase of off-plan flats which “bore the hallmarks of fraud”.

Mr Ali was struck off both for his sham marriages advice and his property-related misconduct in April 2019, but he appealed and the SRA agreed to an order quashing the SDT’s decision because it had not provided the solicitor with a transcript of the tape used for the TV programme.

The matter returned to a fresh tribunal in September 2020, which again struck him off, ordering him to pay £26,500 in costs.

Mr Ali argued in his second appeal that the SDT had erred in not prosecuting the property and immigration allegations in separate proceedings, but the court held that the SDT was “capable of being alive to the risks of influence of findings in relation to one allegation upon other allegations”.

Morris J rejected the contention that the reporter’s conduct amounted to entrapment as unfounded both in law – as he was a non-state agent – and in fact. “The questions posed by Person A were not ‘leading’, but rather open and fair,” he observed.

He dismissed various other grounds too, such as the SRA failing to produce a forensic report about the authenticity of the video and audio, and whether they were edited or not – the unchallenged evidence from the production company was that it handed over all the footage it had.

Morris J concluded that the tribunal’s order was “neither wrong on the facts nor unjust because of any serious procedural or other irregularity”.

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