“Manifestly incompetent” solicitor did not tell SRA when firm went bust

SDT: Misconduct did not justify a strike-off

A solicitor who admitted “manifest incompetence” and that he was “a poor manager”, failing to disclose that his firm was in financial difficulty, has been suspended for 18 months.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) did not find out that Douglas Kihiko Wamburu’s law firm had been wound up until it was told by the Insolvency Service a year later.

Mr Wamburu, born in 1967 and admitted in 2009, was sole principal of Jesse Douglas & Aaskells Solicitors, and the COLP and COFA. The firm, based in Gillingham, Kent, specialised in mental health cases.

In an agreed outcome with Mr Wamburu, approved by the SDT, the SRA said he was authorised as a recognised sole practitioner in 2012 but then set up a company in 2013 which he failed to notify to the regulator. This meant he was practising without authorisation.

The regulator sent him a letter of advice in September 2014 after he admitted taking instructions when not authorised. No action was taken after he acknowledged his “mistake”.

The SRA said it first investigated Jesse Douglas & Aaskells after a report from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) in April 2018 that it had suspended its contract with the firm because of a breach of its supervision requirements.

The solicitor did not tell the SRA about this. Replying to a letter from the regulator in December 2018 asking him why, Mr Wamburu said his law firm “did not suffer financially” – he simply carried on working as a mental health solicitor as a consultant for another firm. The SRA accepted this explanation and closed its investigation.

However, what Mr Wamburu did not mention was that the firm had been wound up by HM Revenue & Customs in January 2018 owing over £136,000 in unpaid corporation tax, interest and VAT. The law firm was put into a creditors’ voluntary liquidation but the solicitor continued to practise as Jesse Douglas & Aaskells.

In late 2019, the SRA launched another investigation, which found multiple accounts rules breaches. Mr Wamburu said he “wasn’t aware” it was his responsibility to maintain books of accounts, leaving everything to his accountant.

Following the loss of the legal aid contract, he handled about 10 privately funded immigration cases and had the fees paid into his personal bank account.

He described himself as a “poor manager [who] didn’t really have a grasp of managing a firm” or of being a compliance officer.

The SRA heard from the LAA that the firm had exceeded the number of case starts it had permission for and owed it over £200,000 in legal aid payments for unauthorised work.

Mr Wamburu also failed to report being disqualified from acting as a director from September 2019 to March 2023, and being adjudged bankrupt in April 2021, although he was now discharged.

He admitted multiple breaches, including failing to notify the SRA that his firm was in ‘serious financial difficulty’ and to co-operate with its investigation, as well as “manifest incompetence”.

The solicitor said, in non-agreed mitigation, that he had caring responsibilities for his son and did not “wish to own or manage a law firm again, accepting that he did not have the requisite skills to do so”.

The SRA noted that Mr Wamburu had shown “genuine insight” and that the misconduct did not justify striking him off.

The SDT agreed that he should be suspended for 18 months and pay £18,000 in costs.

After his suspension expires, there will be conditions on his practising certificate that prevent him from being a manager of a law firm, a compliance officer, holding or receiving client money, or acting as a signatory on client account.

    Readers Comments

  • Ted says:

    ”The SDT agreed that he should be suspended for 18 months and pay £18,000 in costs.”
    Where would someone that has just been discharged from bankruptcy get £18,000 from?

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