- Legal Futures - https://www.legalfutures.co.uk -

Immigration lawyer who lied to High Court is struck off

passport [1]

SDT: “very highest level of offending behaviour”

A solicitor who lied to the High Court and was found guilty of contempt – leading the now Lord Chief Justice to refer him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

The SDT said Benny Thomas, senior partner of immigration specialists Consilium Chambers, had also misled the Legal Ombudsman, the SRA and the tribunal itself.

The SDT said it was “difficult to imagine a more serious offence for a solicitor to have committed” than contempt.

The tribunal said the harm done by Mr Thomas, the second respondent in the case, was considerable, there were “no significant mitigating factors” and he “certainly had no insight” into his actions.

“For the second respondent to have been found guilty by the High Court of contempt of court and of giving untruthful evidence on oath was at the very highest level of offending behaviour and reflected extremely badly upon the profession.”

Delivering judgment in SRA v Syed Tanweer Akhtar and Benny Thomas (case no 11262-2014), the SDT found that a long list of allegations against Mr Thomas had been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Apart from dishonesty, these included breaches of the Solicitors Accounts Rules and permitting non-lawyers to be members of his law firm without obtaining approval from the SRA to be an alternative business structure.

Mr Thomas was found guilty of ‘contempt in the face of the court’ by Mr Justice Cranston in July 2013.

In a further High Court ruling the following month [2], Cranston J, accompanied by the then president of the Queen’s Bench Division and now Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Thomas, decided not to take action over his contempt on the grounds that it had asked the SRA to investigate.

The SRA closed down Consilium Chambers [3] in September 2013.

Following an inspection at Consilium Chambers, the regulator found that “no proper books or records had ever been maintained”, and the firm, which started trading in March 2012, had no bank account until October 2012.

Following a meeting with the SRA, Mr Thomas admitted that he had breached the Code of Conduct.

Along with Mr Thomas, partner Syed Tanweer Akhtar faced allegations from the SRA that he had breached the accounts rules. He was also accused of breaching the principles in allowing non-lawyers to be members of the firm without SRA approval and failing to ensure that there was a proper system for handling client money.

Mr Tanweer, who no longer holds a practising certificate, admitted all of the allegations against him, “albeit only in the last week”. The SDT said the offences were, in any case, proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The tribunal described Mr Tanweer as an “honest witness”, was impressed by the fact he had paid and was continuing to pay the intervention costs and found that he had “genuine insight into his failings”.

The SDT ruled that he should be reprimanded and ordered to pay costs of £6,200. It ordered that Mr Thomas should be struck off the roll and ordered to pay costs of £18,600.