A solicitor who faked three client care letters and backdated them has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT rejected Rafique Hussain Chowdhury’s claims that he acted “in a moment of madness” and was “regularising the files, not seeking to mislead anyone”.
The tribunal said the “freshness of the paper” gave an investigating officer from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) “cause for concern” and Mr Chowdhury later admitted that “no client care letters were ever sent on the 151 matters being investigated”.
The SDT went on: “The tribunal found that although the respondent claimed he was in a state of panic, there was a degree of planning and foresight in creating the client care letters and placing them on the file as the respondent had changed the dates to coincide with the date of instructions to the firm, and he had inserted costs information from the bills of costs on the file.”
The SDT said Mr Chowdhury’s answers to the SRA investigating officer had been “evasive and this clearly demonstrated he knew that what he was doing was wrong”.
Rejecting his argument that he had acted in a “moment of madness” rather than dishonestly, the tribunal said that while his actions may have “regularised the file”, they sought to mislead the SRA and Mr Chowdhury knew this.
“The tribunal was satisfied that the actions of the respondent showed that he did know that his conduct would be regarded as dishonest by the standards of reasonable and honest people and therefore found dishonesty proved.”
The SDT heard in SRA v Chowdhury (case no.11437-2015) that Mr Chowdhury – who born in 1977 and admitted in 2005 – was a member of Gateway Solicitors, based in East London. The law firm had one other member, Ashcroft Law Ltd, a company “of which the respondent was the sole director and shareholder”.
After receiving a qualified accountants’ report, the SRA launched an investigation, closing down the firm in July 2015.
Mr Chowdhury admitted three breaches of the accounts’ rules – failing to return client money promptly or inform clients that money was retained, failing to give or send a bill of costs before taking payment and failing to maintain adequate books of account or conduct client account reconciliations.
He also admitted that he had “created client care letters on three files, which he was required to produce to the forensic investigator on 9 March 2015, and backdated each of them to the beginning of the retainer in order to make them look customary”. However, he denied acting dishonestly.
Having found dishonesty nonetheless proved, the SDT considered the issue of sanction.
“The respondent’s conduct was deliberate and calculated to mislead the regulator. The dishonest conduct had been repeated on three files, albeit over a very short timescale, the respondent had been evasive in the early part of his interview with the forensic investigation officer, and he had not admitted immediately what he had done.
“The accounts breaches had taken place over a long period of time. These were all aggravating factors.”
However, the tribunal said Mr Chowdhury previously had a “long unblemished record”, he had remedied the accounts breaches and his dishonest conduct had been “for a very short” duration – it was, the tribunal said, a “sad case”.
“He had apologised for what he had done showing some insight, he had co-operated with the investigation and had made a number of admissions.
“He had rectified all the accounts breaches once they had been drawn to his attention. The respondent stated he had been stressed at the time due to his personal circumstances and these were all mitigating factors.”
The SDT concluded that, although there was no harm to clients or breach of trust, by misleading the regulator Mr Chowdhury had harmed the reputation of the profession. The tribunal ruled that he should be struck off the roll and pay costs of £10,000.
In a separate development, it has emerged that struck-off solicitor Rajesh Babajee, described by the SDT in April this year as having provided a “masterclass in failure to comply”, has been working as a law lecturer at the controversial Mauritius campus of Aberystwyth University, the existence of which has come under fire.
A spokeswoman for the university said: “Mr Babajee resigned from his position as lecturer in law at the Mauritius Branch Campus in May 2016.”