A personal injury solicitor has been sanctioned for allowing the claims management company (CMC) that supplied almost all of his work to dictate the terms of clients’ engagement with his firm.
Israr Mohammed Malik was the former sole director, COLP and COFA of Kingson Law in Bradford, which received 95% of its work from a CMC referred to simply as ‘Company A’.
Between March 2018 and January 2019, Company A referred 119 clients who had signed an agreement with the CMC which authorised Kingson Law to act for the client.
The form also authorised the sharing of data with a medical reporting company linked to Company A, regardless of whether this was the company instructed, and waived the client’s right to cancel their instructions to the firm.
The agreement was drafted by Company A without Mr Malik’s input and he did not advise clients on its content.
He admitted that he allowed his independence to be compromised and failed to act in his clients’ best interests.
The agreement recorded that Kingson Law had close links to two other firms of solicitors (firms B and C), and his staff worked at these other firms “concurrently or successively or both”.
Staff often worked at all three firms without written contracts and there was no training on risks to client confidentiality and data protection.
The firm acted for a couple in linked personal injury matters. The husband’s file was transferred to firm C by the fee-earner on the file, who also worked at firm C, without the client’s consent of Mr D or Mr Malik’s knowledge.
It was, the SRA said, sometimes unclear at which firm fee-earners were working when tasks were undertaken on both files.
The clients complained in 2017 but Mr Malik only made changes to the firm’s systems to address these issues in July 2019, during the SRA investigation, and the firm closed on 31 October 2019.
Mr Malik admitted breaching rules on confidentiality and having appropriate systems and controls in place to identify and mitigate risks to confidentiality and data protection.
In mitigation, the solicitor said Kingson Law did not enforce the cancellation waiver in the agreements drafted by Company A, nor did it share medical information when it was not necessary.
He offered the couple compensation for the deficiencies in the service they received
In deciding a fine was appropriate, the SRA said Mr Malik “demonstrated a reckless disregard of harm these issues could have caused to his clients” and only “noticed and rectified” them when prompted to do so by the SRA, rather than when he received the complaints.
“A financial penalty is appropriate because Mr Malik’s conduct has been serious. A fine will act as a credible deterrent and thus maintain professional standards and uphold public confidence in the delivery of legal services and the solicitors’ profession.”
Though the nature of the conduct was serious, the impact was judged low, which under the SRA’s fining guidance meant a penalty bracket of £1,000 to £5,000.
Taking into account the mitigation, the SRA said a fine of £2,000 was appropriate.
Mr Malik also agreed to pay the SRA costs of £600.