A sole principal who failed in a rare challenge to an intervention in the High Court last year has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), and ordered to pay over £70,000 in costs.
The SDT found that Rajeswary Ramasamy had acted dishonestly on one occasion at a time when her judgement had been “impaired” by the influence of a “significant client”, who was also a struck-off solicitor.
Ms Ramasamy was admitted as a solicitor in January 2007, and less than two years later, in October 2008, became sole principal of Thames Chambers Solicitors in Whitechapel, East London.
The SDT heard that Rajesh Singh Pathania, named by the High Court but referred to by the tribunal only as RSP, was struck off in 2010 but had subsequently been remunerated for legal work he did at the firm, albeit mainly on his own cases.
It said: “The tribunal had heard evidence from a number of witnesses including the respondent that RSP was an important client to the firm. He had a large number of cases and he was very well-connected in the local community.
“The tribunal found that the respondent’s judgment had been clouded by that importance and she had lost sight of her obligations and responsibilities to ensure that he did not have any involvement in the firm.
“In doing so she had allowed a situation to arise whereby he was being remunerated despite being a struck-off solicitor.”
Though RSP was not formally employed or paid, his activities met the established definition in the tribunal that ‘employment’ and ‘remuneration’ should be construed in the wider sense of, respectively, ‘keeping busy or occupied’ and ‘to provide recompense for’.
It was clear that he was at the firm “a great deal of time”, the tribunal found, having been given facilities and staff to work on his own cases.
“The tribunal found that, while he may not have had unfettered access, he certainly had easy access to the firm….
“The firm enabled RSP to maintain his reputation in the community as somebody who could provide legal advice notwithstanding the fact that he had been struck off.”
Though he had his own cases, RSP “had time to advise and discuss other people’s cases”.
It emerged at the High Court last year that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) investigated three times whether RSP was employed by Ms Ramasamy without the regulator’s authority, culminating in a full forensic investigation in 2014.
The solicitor argued at her tribunal hearing that there should be no “guilt by association with RSP”.
The tribunal recorded that Ms Ramasamy was “56 years of age and had obtained her A-levels in 1992 when she was 31, her law degree in 1998 when she was 37, and her qualification in law in Malaysia in 2002.
“She had then qualified in the United Kingdom in 2007 at the age of 46. It was submitted that this demonstrated a level of commitment despite financial hardship which she would not have gone through only to throw it away by breaking the code of conduct or acting dishonestly.”
She was also found to have allowed a struck-off solicitor to undertake litigation or ancillary work without the permission of the SRA, and claimed fees when she was either unaware of whether work had been carried out or where the work was carried out by a struck-off solicitor.
She was also found to have allowed the use of a firm email account by a person other than herself or her employees.
An allegation that she claimed VAT without being VAT-registered was upheld by the SDT in regard only to a claim on behalf of a client on the Compensation Fund. An allegation that she had allowed a struck-off solicitor to be involved in the management of her firm was rejected in its entirety.
The SDT upheld a single allegation of dishonesty against Ms Ramasamy, arising from an incident where she either knew that she was issuing a bill either for work carried out by a struck-off solicitor or for work that had not been carried out.
The tribunal said the incident had not taken place while the solicitor was ill and there was “no evidence that she had been pressured into doing this against her will”.
The SRA claimed over £90,000 in costs, which the tribunal reduced to £70,100.
Noting that “the potential for harm when running a firm to which a struck-off solicitor has easy access was extraordinary high”, it ordered that Ms Ramasamy should be struck off.