A sole practitioner who overcharged by 500% for private client work has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT also found that Premji Naran Patel was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by improperly moving money between different client accounts.
The tribunal described how Mr Patel “abused the trust” of beneficiaries, causing them to suffer financially while he “deliberately and calculatedly” delayed in distributing the proceeds of an estate.
“The respondent was an experienced solicitor, who was fully aware of his duties and obligations in relation to his clients’ monies. His actions were planned and calculated to assist either himself or his other clients.
“The tribunal did not find any factors to mitigate the seriousness of the respondent’s conduct. He had made no admissions, had displayed no insight and had delayed for as long as possible before replacing the misused funds.”
The SDT said Mr Patel’s conduct was aggravated by two previous appearances before the tribunal. He was fined £1,500 in 2003 for breaches of the Solicitors Accounts Rules, and in 2011 fined £7,500 for allowing his client account to be used as a bank account.
The tribunal heard in SRA v Patel (case no.11328-2015) that Mr Patel was sole principal of Alliance Solicitors at the time of his offences.
A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said that records showed that the firm, based in Harrow, Middlesex, closed in October 2013. There is no link between Mr Patel’s former firm and a firm currently trading as Alliance Solicitors – an immigration and asylum specialist based in Kilburn, north London.
Mr Patel was found by the SDT to have been guilty of all the offences alleged by the SRA: failing to act with integrity or in the best interests of clients, or provide a good standard of service, while he behaved in a way likely to diminish public trust in the profession.
Mr Patel was also found to have “failed to use each client’s money for that client’s matters only”, failed to give or send a bill, withdrawn money in breach of the Solicitors Accounts Rules and “charged clients for costs that were not fair or reasonable”.
The tribunal heard that in particular Mr Patel charged one estate a total of £70,490 plus VAT, instead of the “true costs of the work done, which was up to £11,750 plus VAT”.
Finding Mr Patel guilty of acting dishonestly, the SDT said that “reasonable and honest people, applying ordinary standards would find that a solicitor, who had charged 500% more than the value of the work undertaken, and had deliberately misled clients, had acted dishonestly”.
Turning to the subjective test for dishonesty, the SDT said Mr Patel knew it was dishonest to pay for indemnity insurance from client account.
“The tribunal did not accept the respondent’s explanation that this was simply an accounting error; the respondent, at the time of payment of his PII, did not hold sufficient funds in his office account to make that payment, nor did he have any overdraft facility.”
The SDT concluded that Mr Patel’s conduct was “aggravated by his proven dishonesty which was deliberate, calculated and repeated, and was in material breach of his obligation to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the reputation of the profession”.
He was struck off and ordered to pay £35,000 costs.