Law firm owner struck off for misleading High Court over JRs

SDT: Solicitor sought to subvert the proper administration of justice

A law firm owner who misled the High Court over the conduct of failed judicial reviews (JRs) in immigration cases and tried to shift the blame on to a paralegal has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that Mohammed Ekramul Hoque Mazumder did not adequately supervise his staff in handling the JRs and did not have effective systems and controls in place for them.

In 2019, the High Court referred Heans Solicitors to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over it advancing “wholly bogus claims”. The firm, which had offices in Southampton and East London, closed in 2021.

Five cases were referred to the Divisional Court for a so-called Hamid hearing, which takes place when a judge considers a lawyer may have acted improperly in JR proceedings.

The cases had been dismissed as being totally without merit, because of “serious concerns about failures to adhere to proper standards in relation to the conduct of these claims” by Mr Mazumder and others working for him at Heans.

Mr Mazumder, who qualified in 2012, was the sole owner and compliance officer of Heans. He admitted failing to supervise staff adequately and having effective systems and controls in place once the SRA closed its case at the hearing.

Though he denied making misleading assertions in two witness statements to the court for the Hamid hearing, the SDT found that he did so when he said one of the cases was the “first independently worked JR application” that the paralegal had handled, that counsel always drafted JRs, and that the documents in one of the cases had been submitted without Mr Mazumder or another solicitor reviewing them due to time pressures.

Mr Mazumder claimed that, if he had misled the court, it was a mistake caused by others providing inaccurate information.

But the SDT disagreed, finding that Mr Mazumder had been dishonest. He had “sought to subvert the proper administration of justice in order to protect himself and his firm”.

It continued: “He had deliberately made these assertions in order to try to avoid a report to the SRA and in the hopes that nothing further would come of the significant failures evidenced by the conduct of the JR claims.”

The SDT found that the witness statement the paralegal, Salauddin Khan, had signed for the Hamid hearing – in which he accepted the blame for mismanaging one of the JRs – was actually written by Mr Mazumder, contrary to what the solicitor had told the court.

Instead, it found Mr Khan had failed to read the witness statement he signed and thus failed to uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice.

But he did so “under duress from Mr Mazumder”, which was “a complete defence” to the accusation that his conduct showed a lack of integrity.

Mr Khan was cleared of failing to take any steps to alert the High Court to what had happened, with the SDT finding he had not known about the Hamid hearing or that the witness statement was being submitted to the High Court in his name.

In striking off Mr Mazumder, the tribunal concluded that Mr Mazumder’s misconduct was “deliberate, calculated and repeated”. He had “targeted and taken advantage of Mr S Khan” who was vulnerable by virtue of his immigration status; Mr Mazumder abused his position of authority and power over the paralegal.

He had also been before the SDT before, fined £2,000 in 2016 for how a previous firm where he was a manager closed down.

The SDT decided that, in the circumstances, it would be “unfair and disproportionate to impose a sanction” on Mr Khan for failing to read the statement.

Also before the SDT was Naseer Khan, who qualified in 2018, and worked at Heans as a self-employed consultant solicitor.

He was found to have signed an employment contract in 2018 giving him supervisory responsibilities when he was only two months qualified.

Mr Khan said he signed the contract without reading it, and that he would not have done so had he been aware of the clause. This damaged public trust, the SDT found.

Separately, Mr Khan asked a client to transfer £360 that was intended for the firm to his own personal bank account. He retained £160 of it, which he said the client owed him personally.

In doing so, he failed to act in his client’s best interests, the SDT held.

The tribunal noted that Mr N Khan was inexperienced at the time of the misconduct and had returned the money to the client.

“His misconduct amounted to single episodes in an otherwise unblemished career. He had made open and rank admissions as to the facts.”

The tribunal decided a fine of £10,000, reduced to £5,000 due to his means, was an appropriate sanction.

Mr Mazumder was ordered to pay costs of £64,000, 80% of the total. Mr N Khan is to pay £12,000 (15%) but, given his limited means, the costs are not to be enforced without leave of the tribunal.

Mr S Khan was of “extremely limited means” and, as there was “no reasonable prospect” of him being able to pay any costs, the SDT made no order for costs against him.

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