SDT grants law firm access to papers to help sue struck-off solicitor


SDT: Rare majority decision

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has granted a law firm access to papers from a recent case to help legal action being taken against the solicitor it struck off.

Unusually, the SDT made a majority decision to hand over the information in a redacted form, with the chair of the panel, Ashok Ghosh, arguing that nothing should be censored.

Aziz-Ur Rehman, founder of Morgan Mark Solicitors in Ilford, Essex, was struck off earlier this year for dishonestly making improper transfers of “at least” £198,000 from money meant to be used in conveyancing transactions, but the tribunal indicated that more had likely been taken.

As of last December, his conduct had led to 25 claims on the SRA Compensation Fund totalling £750,000. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) closed the firm in 2019.

London law firm Pennington Manches Cooper (PMC) acts for a number of people bringing a claim against Morgan Mark over their purchases of one or more units in the failed Carlauren property developments.

Carlauren raised £79m from investors to convert properties into luxury care homes, offering a return of 10% a year, before the business collapsed.

PMC sought a non-party disclosure order for a report before the earlier tribunal that contained Mr Rehman’s last known address, because it was “obliged to make reasonable attempts to ascertain Mr Rehman’s current whereabouts in advance of service”. The SDT granted this.

PMC also sought two SRA reports that followed its forensic investigation into Morgan Mark.

The regulator opposed this on the basis that they contained confidential information relating to former clients of the firm and, as it was not clear whether PMC’s clients fell into this category, it would not be a proportionate use of its time to redact them.

The panel said it took account of the comments of Mr Justice Kerr in July, when he criticised a different SDT panel about making anonymity orders and said: “Courts and tribunals should not be squeamish about naming innocent people caught up in alleged wrongdoing of others.”

However, the majority of the tribunal said the principle of open justice “would not be sufficiently advanced by disclosure of the sensitive information relating to those clients so as to justify disregarding the entitlement of the clients to confidentiality and privilege”.

Those clients had not brought complaints about the conduct of their matters, played no part in the earlier tribunal proceedings, “and as far as the tribunal was aware may well have had no knowledge even that their matters had been the subject of consideration by the tribunal”.

It ordered that the reports be provided but with all client names and financial information, and bank account details of Morgan Mark, redacted.

Mr Ghosh dissented on the basis that the reports should be provided unredacted, citing the fundamental importance of open justice.

The SRA’s “bald assertion” that disclosure might endanger client confidentiality was insufficient, he argued; both documents formed “an integral part” of the judgment and the case.

The redaction of bank account details was both unjustified and otiose given that the firm has been closed for some time and, since the firm has ceased to exist, “it is also difficult to see how legal professional privilege can have any relevance”.

He added: “Full disclosure in respect of all the underlying financial transactions is intrinsic to open justice, in view of the fact that the case essentially concerned dishonesty in relation to underlying financial transactions.”

Mr Ghosh cited Kerr J in saying the names should not be redacted either.




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