The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has lifted practising conditions on the former partner of a law firm whom it has twice fined, latterly £20,000 for “very serious misconduct”.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) argued strongly against the removal of all conditions imposed on Malik Nazeer, adding that he would still have to apply to the regulator for their removal and “it would reach its own decision”.
Mr Nazeer was found by the tribunal in December 2017 to have “facilitated the abuse of litigation” by bringing judicial review claims for immigration clients in situations where he knew or should have known the claims were not properly arguable.
He was fined £20,000 and made subject to conditions preventing him from practising as a sole practitioner or sole owner, being a partner or compliance officer of a law firm, and from working as a solicitor without SRA approval.
Mr Justice Lavender dismissed Mr Nazeer’s appeal in January 2019, finding that the solicitor had ignored judges’ warnings to change his behaviour.
Lavender J said it was “well known that the process of this court is open to abuse in immigration cases if applications for judicial review are made which have no merit”.
Mr Nazeer had previously appeared before the SDT in 2012, when he was fined £5,000 for failing to provide complete and accurate information to indemnity insurers for five years running.
Mr Nazeer’s counsel said the conditions “made it extremely difficult to find work as a solicitor”; he had made 47 unsuccessful applications for employment in 2018 and 2019 before finding his current part-time job at London firm Newgate Solicitors in 2020.
Mohammed Asif, the firm’s senior partner, told the SDT that he had closely supervised Mr Nazeer and would offer him full-time employment and a management role running a branch office if the conditions were removed.
Mr Nazeer wanted to become a criminal defence partner but under Legal Aid Agency rules could not do so before he had practised for three years without conditions.
Granting the solicitor’s application, the SDT said it did not consider his 2012 conviction had “much bearing” on the need for conditions.
Mr Nazeer had completed “extensive training” since 2017 – including in management and compliance – but was in “something of a ‘Catch 22’ situation” in terms of demonstrating its practical application to management because of the conditions he was under.
The tribunal said Mr Nazeer’s evidence of insight was “extensive and impressive” and he had displayed “genuine remorse”.
He had “demonstrated that the position had changed sufficiently in the five years since the conditions were imposed” to the point where they were “no longer necessary and appropriate”.
If the conditions were lifted, the solicitor would still have to apply to the SRA if he wanted to be a sole practitioner, partner or compliance officer, and the SRA “as regulator was capable of managing any regulatory risk it perceived”.
However, counsel for the SRA argued that Mr Nazeer’s “intention to become a criminal law supervisor, which required an absence of conditions, coupled with his age were insufficient reasons for the complete removal of all conditions”.
The solicitor “was required to demonstrate that the conditions were no longer necessary and that he had failed to discharge that burden”.
The SRA did not accept that insight was “the only issue to be considered” and said Lavender J had “made reference to the management failures as well as the lack of insight and had specifically noted that the condition that Mr Nazeer’s employment be approved by the SRA was necessary given the need for oversight which had been found by the tribunal”.
Counsel for the regulator said the 2012 tribunal findings relating to failure to make “full and factual disclosure in the context of insurance renewal” were relevant.
Variation of the conditions, rather than their complete removal, would allow a “phased return to practice”.
But the SDT granted Mr Nazeer’s application for the removal of conditions and ordered him to pay costs of just over £2,500.