The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has refused to allow an immigration solicitor to be restored to the roll 21 years after he was struck off for accounts rule breaches.
The tribunal said that, while it could see from the work Minesh Mansukhlal Ruparelia had done since being struck off – including being a regulated immigration adviser – might show his competence, it did not prove his integrity.
It acknowledged that no finding of dishonesty had been recorded against the solicitor but said this “did not vitiate the seriousness of the misconduct found”.
The tribunal cited the seminal 1994 ruling in Bolton, in which then Master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Bingham, warned that solicitors often presented glowing tributes and hard luck stories to the tribunal, but that on applying for a restoration after strike-off they did not deal with the “unquestionable integrity, probity and trustworthiness” in which the public needed to have confidence.
Mr Ruparelia, who qualified in 1994, was struck off in 2001. His multiple accounts offences included improper withdrawals from the client account, giving misleading information to investigators and failing to cooperate fully with them.
He then joined the family car business until it ceased trading in 2009, when an application by a firm of solicitors seeking to employ him as a legal clerk was refused.
In 2010 he worked as an immigration clerk at the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) after which permission to work for the same law firm, Punatar & Co, was again refused.
In 2011, Mr Ruparelia was accredited to work as an OISC immigration lawyer with advocacy rights. He set up – and continues to run – an OISC-regulated firm.
Now Mr Punatar wanted to set up an immigration department headed by Mr Ruparelia, working as an assistant solicitor under his supervision, if he was restored to the roll.
Mr Ruparelia’s solicitor-advocate, David Barton, told the SDT that he was “a different man to what he was in 2000” in that he was older and wiser. “The public would understand, support and may even applaud” his endeavours to rehabilitate himself.
Giving evidence, Mr Ruparelia said that, when he was struck off, he had been young and “dazzled” by the work he was doing and at the time had little insight into his misconduct. He did not recognise the person that he was then and was not proud of what he had done.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority opposed restoration, citing the seriousness of the original misconduct and what it considered “the inadequacy of demonstrable rehabilitation to date”.
The SDT said Mr Ruparelia’s subsequent employment had shown he was competent in immigration law but this had no bearing on his “ethical and moral compass”, which had been found lacking in 2001.
It was troubled by the lack of immigration law experience among other members of Mr Punatar’s firm, and was not satisfied by “the adequacy and efficacy of the proposed supervision, which lacked safeguards, controls, checks and/or balances”.
The “voluminous” testimonials provided were to Mr Ruparelia’s credit but it was not clear that their authors “were fully aware of the true extent of the original misconduct”.
Weighing all the factors, the tribunal was “left with identifiable concerns as to [his] fitness and propriety to be restored to the roll”.
The efforts to rehabilitate himself had been commendable but did not address the original mischief “which centred on demonstrable and repeated lack of integrity”.
The public was entitled to “have faith and confidence that [solicitors] will conduct themselves properly, ethically and morally,” the tribunal said.
Mr Ruparelia was ordered to pay £2,000 in costs.