An immigration solicitor certified a lasting power of attorney (LPA) for a walk-in client without checking his capacity, allowing the man’s son and attorney to misuse some of his money.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has fined Richard Ikechukwu Ugoh £1,700 under a regulatory settlement agreement.
A partner at south-east London firm Liberty & Co who qualified in 2010, he has also agreed to a condition on his current practising certificate banning him from carrying out or supervising any form of attorney related work.
The agreement recounted that, in August 2019, Mr A was a walk-in client who had not used the firm before and could not speak English. He attended the firm’s offices with his son, Mr B, who translated for him.
Mr B asked Mr Ugoh to sign as certificate provider a pre-completed form creating an LPA for property and financial affairs for Mr A, with Mr B as attorney.
Mr Ugoh did not talk to Mr A separately so as to check that Mr A understood and was happy with it. Instead, he signed the form and charged £100.
According to the Liberty & Co website, Mr Ugoh supervises its immigration, business and property work.
Mr B registered the LPA with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) in October 2019. Just a week later, Mr A’s local authority care providers told the OPG of their concern that Mr A lacked the mental capacity to understand what had taken place when the LPA was signed.
An OPG investigation decided that Mr A had lacked mental capacity at the time and that Mr Ugoh failed to carry out his role as certificate provider.
The OPG went on to commission a ‘special visitor’ – a medical practitioner with particular knowledge of mental incapacity – to determine Mr A’s capacity.
Their report showed that Mr A had dementia with significant memory impairment, did not understand the concept of an LPA, had a significant hearing impairment, did not speak English and did not want Mr B to look after his money.
The OPG submitted an application to the Court of Protection, which suspended the LPA and appointed a panel deputy to look after Mr A’s affairs. The OPG then reported Mr Ugoh to the SRA.
During this time, Mr B used his status as attorney to misuse £5,000 of Mr A’s money.
Mr Ugoh admitted that he failed to act in Mr A’s best interests or act within the boundaries of his competence when advising him.
In mitigation, the solicitor said he had no previous history of this type of behaviour, that it was an isolated incident with no risk of repetition, and that he had shown insight and remorse.
The SRA said Mr Ugoh “should have been familiar with the ethical standards and safeguards that solicitors should implement when assessing whether a person is capable of entering into a transaction of this kind”.
By failing to do so, Mr Ugoh showed “a wilful or reckless disregard of the risk of harm both to Mr A and his regulatory obligations”; Mr A suffered “significant harm” as a direct result.
The SRA decided that a fine would act as “a credible deterrent to Mr Ugoh and others” and uphold public confidence in the profession.
It set the fine at £2,000, reduced to £1,700 to reflect Mr Ugoh’s early admission: “This was an isolated incident and Mr Ugoh has shown insight into his conduct and he has agreed to a condition on his practising certificate which further mitigates the risk of further comparable conduct.
“In addition, Mr Ugoh has reflected on his training needs and intends to implement appropriate continuing professional development activities.”