‘Sham marriage’ solicitor appeals against striking off

Sham marriage: Solicitor appealing strike off

A second solicitor who told an undercover television reporter that he would help them apply for a visa on the back of a bogus marriage has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said it had not been a case of entrapment as Syed Muzaher Naqvi would have given the same advice to a genuine client.

Mr Naqvi, who was a sole practitioner at Naqvi & Co in West London, is appealing to the High Court against the decision, it has emerged.

Zulfiqar Ali, a sole practitioner at ZA Solicitors in East London, was struck off earlier this year after being shown giving similar advice on an ITV documentary shown in 2015 called Exposure: The Sham Marriage Racket. He too is appealing.

The SDT at Mr Naqvi’s disciplinary hearing did not watch the documentary produced by Hardcash Productions, but instead the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) relied for its allegations on translated transcripts of undercover interviews.

The tribunal said Mr Naqvi “did not know that Client A was not a real client” and “clearly considered him to be one at the time he was giving the advice”.

No harm was caused to Client A, but the solicitor “could not have known that at the time” and the damage to the profession was “huge”, as the matter had been broadcast on national TV, “which would have a significant impact on the public perception of the profession”.

Counsel for Mr Naqvi argued that the involvement of an undercover reporter amounted to ‘exceptional circumstances’ which would make the striking off unjust.

However, the tribunal said: “The reporter’s presence was an interesting aspect of the background but the prime mover had been the respondent and that excluded the possibility of exceptional circumstances.”

The SDT heard that the sole practitioner was admitted to the roll in 2009.

There was a first and second interview between Mr Naqvi and Client A. The second, which took place in March 2015, formed the basis for the SRA’s allegations.

Mr Naqvi notified the SRA of the incident in June 2015. The SRA closed the matter in January 2016, only to reopen it after a review in November 2017.

The SRA obtained a court order requiring disclosure of recorded material from the documentary and Mr Naqvi was referred to the SDT in April 2018.

The SDT said it rejected “in their entirety” arguments from Mr Naqvi that there had been an abuse of process, on the basis that there was “no evidence” that the solicitor had engaged in activities involving sham marriages.

Counsel for Naqvi said it was a “quantum leap” for the profession to “punish and sanction on the basis of evidence from a single source”, which in this case was suspect.

However, the tribunal said it had found “no instance” where Mr Naqvi had advised that applying for a visa as a spouse or partner “on the basis of a relationship which was not genuine” was unlawful.

It said the solicitor’s case was that he and Client A “had been talking at cross-purposes” and he understood Client A to be referring to a legitimate arranged marriage.

“The tribunal found that it was abundantly clear that Client A was referring to a relationship that would not be genuine as he had explicitly said so.

“The starkest example of this was when he had told the respondent ‘it is not a genuine relationship in any case’. This left no room for misunderstanding or talking at cross-purposes”.

The tribunal found that Mr Naqvi’s failure to advise Client A that applying for a visa on behalf of a spouse or partner on the basis of a relationship which was not genuine was unlawful.

He had acted dishonestly in advising Client A not to let him know if he was applying for a visa on the basis of a relationship which was not genuine.

Mr Naqvi also acted dishonestly in indicating that he was willing to advise and/or assist Client A in applying for the visa, and in advising on steps that could be taken to increase the chances of the visa application being successful.

The solicitor was struck off the roll and ordered to pay just under £25,000 in costs.

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