A tribunal has condemned a partner’s “outrageous” lies to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), made in a bid to frustrate its investigation into her firm.
Qurat Ul Ain Akbar was struck off the register of foreign lawyers after being found guilty of multiple acts of dishonesty.
Since 2010, she had been one of two equity partners of Kensington Law Chambers, which became dormant in late 2016.
However, following the SRA’s intervention into Malik Law Chambers in April 2018, she started the firm up again as Southall Solicitors in Malik Law Chambers’ offices.
Just three days later, on 2 May, the SRA began an investigation into the firm, including an interview with Ms Akbar the following day and a statutory request for the practice’s papers.
On 30 May, the SRA decided to intervene into her practice because it had “reason to suspect dishonesty”, as well as that of the firm and the other partner, Omar Faraque. This took place on 8 June.
In the interview on 3 May, Ms Akbar had told the SRA’s forensic investigation officer that there were no files and the firm had not given any legal advice – even though the officer had seen files and papers the previous day as well as people waiting in reception whom he took to be clients. The files and papers disappeared overnight.
The tribunal was shown photographic evidence of the files and papers, however, and said there was “no other plausible reason” for people to be in reception if they were not clients.
It found that Ms Akbar’s statements about the absence of practice papers and that the firm had no clients were “entirely false and misleading”, and she had failed to comply with the notice to produce the papers issued by the SRA under section 44B of the Solicitors Act 1974.
Further, the SDT did not believe her claim that Mr Faraque had agreed to start the firm back up, which he contradicted in evidence. He had “long been retired from practice” and was in Thailand at the time.
She also misled the High Court and the SRA’s intervention agents by telling them, in response to a search and seizure order, that Mr Faraque supported the reopening.
In addition, the lawyer failed to comply with the requirement in the order to swear and serve an affidavit giving the location of papers, details of the firm’s bank account and any passwords needed to access the firm’s systems. She has not since purged her contempt.
The SDT found Ms Akbar had acted dishonestly in all but the allegation relating to the affidavit, where it could not be sure of her state of mind at the time. It decided instead that her conduct had been reckless.
Her motivation had been “to frustrate the SRA investigation and its attempts to regulate the practice as well”.
The tribunal went on: “The pattern of behaviour, including the clearing of the office after the first visit, indicated a clear degree of planning.”
Though no clients had been harmed, because the SRA’s investigation began so quickly, the potential for harm had it not was “significant”, as was the harm to the reputation of the profession.
“The tribunal considered it outrageous for the respondent to have sought to deceive the regulator who was trying to protect the public.”
Her lies about Mr Faraque had caused him “stress and anxiety in his retirement”.
The SDT concluded: “The misconduct was at the highest level and the only appropriate sanction was a strike-off. The protection of the public and of the reputation of the profession demanded nothing less, having regard to the fact that the dishonest conduct included frustrating the regulator and misleading the court.”
Ms Akbar was also ordered to pay costs of £24,000.