A young solicitor who “panicked” has been suspended for six months for lending his mobile to a criminal suspect who used it to silence a witness, and then denying it when questioned by police.
Mohammed Abid’s barrister said he had made a “grave unforgiveable error… he was a rabbit in headlights”.
The solicitor, who was 27 at the time and qualified in 2015, should have known it was wrong to give a mobile to someone being investigated by police, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said.
He practised at well-known London criminal firm Imran Khan & Partners until he resigned in June 2017.
He had provided the mobile solely for the defendant, known only as DD, to obtain his National Insurance number, without which his firm could not be paid. The man was accused of a serious assault on a visitor to his home, and was subsequently given a six-year prison sentence.
Mr Abid admitted the allegations against him but denied he had been dishonest.
He also admitted to “momentary recklessness” when he did nothing upon hearing DD tell the witness, Miss PW – his partner, who was also in the police station: “Don’t tell them anything.”
The conversation was overheard by a police officer and Miss PW did not sign her witness statement. The police ejected the solicitor after he initially denied what had happened, and later complained about his conduct.
The police decided to let the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) deal with Mr Abid rather than charge him with attempting to pervert the course of justice.
In mitigation, Mr Abid pointed out that PW’s evidence was favourable to DD and she was not a compellable witness in any event.
The SRA withdrew an allegation of dishonesty about Mr Abid’s brief denial. The tribunal observed this had led to a “marked change of position” by the solicitor, who until then had denied any wrongdoing.
From then on the case was characterised as “fundamentally… about a young man who foolishly and wrongly allowed a client charged with a serious criminal offence access to a mobile phone when incommunicado”.
Deciding sanction, the tribunal pointed out it was not until just before the hearing that Mr Abid had shown full insight into his misconduct.
The tribunal recorded: “Overall the impact of the respondent’s behaviour in handing over the phone, allowing the conversation to continue and lying to the police damaged his reputation and potentially that of the firm and the profession with the police, and the public would no doubt take a dim view of it.”
Mr Abid had disclosed some of what had happened to his senior partner, Mr Khan, but not that he had lied to the police. He had explained to the tribunal that he “panicked”.
In the end, the misconduct had had little impact on the outcome of the matter, it found. However, the tribunal continued: “The respondent had handed a potential weapon to a suspect which he could have used to drive a coach and horses through the prosecution case when he was under arrest for an assault serious enough for him later to receive a six-year prison sentence.”
Mr Abid’s conduct was “far too serious for no order, a reprimand or even a fine”, although the tribunal may have considered a fine if the solicitor had come clean with the police and his firm. A suspension was reasonable and proportionate.
He was ordered to pay costs of £7,320 and to complete a course on the SRA code of conduct before returning to practice.