A partner who lied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and her indemnity insurer, and allowed her firm to continue trading without insurance, has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that only eight days after being told by the SRA that she was being investigated for breaching the SRA Handbook, Rupinder Kainth told her insurer she had never been investigated by her regulator.
Among the lies the solicitor told the SRA was that her firm, Wilson & Berry in Bracknell, Berkshire, had merged with another firm – Kingsley David in Milton Keynes, which she had recently bought – and was covered by the latter’s professional indemnity insurance.
Ms Kainth, who qualified in 2010, was the 100% equity owner and COLP and COFA of Wilson & Berry, working with a salaried partner, ‘Ms VS’.
In May 2018, the SRA began an investigation into the firm over a failure to disclose information to its insurer and regulator, and a failure to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman.
The SDT said Ms Kainth bought Kingsley David in August 2019, and she and Ms VS became solicitor managers.
Shortly after, the SRA began a second investigation of Wilson & Berry and she told its officer that she was “not linked with any other business” and specifically that she had not become a director of Kingsley David.
Ms Kainth later told the SRA that the merger between the two had happened, the regulator had been notified, and Kingsley David’s insurer was covering the whole practice – none of which was true.
As a result, Wilson & Berry’s PII lapsed on 30 September and it entered the 30-day extended indemnity period, but the solicitor failed to tell the SRA, as she was required to do.
If no insurance is forthcoming during that period, firms then enter the 60-day cessation period, during which they cannot take on new clients and must move to an orderly closure.
However, Wilson & Berry took on 16 new clients during the cessation period and did not close as required in late December 2019, meaning it was practising without any insurance.
Ms Kainth said the work was actually carried out by Kingsley David, but the evidence showed that its lawyers had done so on a consultancy basis and the firm instructed and that billed was Wilson & Berry. The SRA shut it down in January 2020.
The tribunal said she was “motivated by personal gain” and attempted to keep Wilson & Berry trading “for her own personal benefit” in circumstances where she knew it was not entitled to.
She “had sought to conceal her wrongdoing by the making of false statements”.
In November 2019, Ms Kainth completed a ‘new partner/fee-earner questionnaire’ form for Kingsley David’s insurer, in which she said she had never faced a disciplinary procedure or investigation by the SRA, when just eight days earlier the regulator had confirmed that it was considering whether she had breached the SRA Handbook. This too was dishonest, the SDT said.
Further, Ms Kainth had failed to respond to four statutory notices for information issued by the SRA, did not complete a compulsory anti-money laundering questionnaire, ignored two Legal Ombudsman investigations, and failed to comply with the ombudsman’s decision that she refund a client their fees of £2,700 and pay a further £300 for distress and inconvenience.
Ms Kainth denied the allegations but she did not attend her hearing and offered no mitigation.
The tribunal said her misconduct was “aggravated by her proven dishonesty” and her misconduct was “deliberate, calculated and repeated”.
She was struck off and ordered to pay costs of just over £55,000.