A solicitor who misled the court over the ‘student’ status of a client has been suspended indefinitely by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The tribunal heard that the client told Mansoor Ali that he “never went to college” and had been “paying money to agents” to get certificates from universities, with the aim of staying in the UK for 10 years and obtaining indefinite leave to remain.
Despite this, Mr Ali, a partner at One Source Solicitors in Manchester, launched an immigration appeal to the Upper Tribunal for the client, referred to as Mr A.
The SDT said it did not find Mr Ali to be a “credible witness”, and he had a tendency “not to answer the question he had been asked and appeared to answer the question he had wanted to be asked”.
It went on: “At times the respondent’s recall was patchy and at times it was not. The respondent put forward a number of explanations and his story changed. This made his evidence hard to believe.”
Mr Ali was born in 1978 and admitted as a solicitor in 2012. The allegations, which Mr Ali denied, concerned his conduct in acting for Mr A, from Pakistan, in his application for further leave to remain in the UK.
Mr A, who arrived in the UK in 2005, was granted leave to remain in the UK as a student several times, and in April 2013 made a further application as a student migrant.
The Home Office rejected the application in July 2013, on the grounds that there was no ‘certificate for writing’, proving his English ability, and Mr Ali, who was then a solicitor at another law firm, filed an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.
The SDT heard that Judge Osborne dismissed the appeal in February 2014, because of the missing certificate and because Mr A’s explanations for its absence “lacked credibility”.
Mr Ali, who had joined One Source Solicitors the previous month, was instructed by Mr A to apply for permission to appeal.
The SDT heard that when this was refused, in April 2014, One Source did not notify Mr A, who found out in November when he contacted the United Kingdom Border Agency.
Mr A complained to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) the following year and was awarded £100 compensation for poor service. LeO referred the law firm to the SRA “in the light of the fact they appeared to know that he was not, and never had been, a genuine student in the UK”.
The SDT said a file note of a meeting between Mr Ali and Mr A in February 2014 recorded that Mr A “never went to college” and had been “paying money to agents to get certificates and admissions”.
Mr Ali’s reply was recorded as: “I told him if you have no intention to continue your study in this country, go back to your country. It’s not too late to go and join your father’s business.”
Soon afterwards Mr Ali drafted grounds for permission to appeal which “clearly asserted that Mr A’s application should be granted so that he could continue to study in the UK”.
The tribunal said Mr Ali “did not seek to resile from the content” of the note but instead adopted the approach that the notes were accurate “but for reasons unknown he omitted the fact that he did not actually believe what he recorded” his client as saying.
The SDT said it “knew integrity when it saw it”, and did not consider that a solicitor who was told one thing one day, and lodged an appeal “the very next day, knowing the concerns Judge Osborne had raised about Mr A’s credibility, acted with integrity”.
The tribunal upheld the allegation that Mr Ali continued to act on behalf of Mr A, “notwithstanding that Mr A expressly informed the respondent of facts which meant that any appeal based on his continuing in education would be disingenuous”, breaching SRA principles 2 (acting with integrity) and 6 (maintaining public trust).
The tribunal also upheld the allegation that, despite being informed by the client of facts which meant that any appeal would be disingenuous, Mr Ali commenced an appeal to the Upper Tribunal, failing to withdraw from acting or ensure that the court was not misled.
On sanction, the SDT said Mr Ali had made a “grave error of judgment” and misleading the court was “a very serious matter”.
Although striking off was the “most appropriate sanction”, the tribunal took into account that Mr Ali was “inexperienced” and imposed instead an indefinite suspension.
He was ordered to pay costs of £19,500.