Solicitor fined £10,000 for directing client’s fees to own bank account

SRA: Conduct showed a lack of integrity

An experienced solicitor has been fined more than £10,000 for taking payments from a client into his own bank account.

Amarjit Singh Bhachu, who used to work at West London firm Waterfords, admitted his misconduct in a regulatory settlement agreement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and also agreed to pay costs of £4,000.

Mr Bhachu, who qualified in 1991, was acting for a client, ‘Ms T’, in her divorce proceedings. They agreed a basis of charge which saw her pay £14,732, including £5,773 in disbursements, direct into the solicitor’s bank account between May 2018 and March 2020.

Ms T said she had instructed Mr Bhachu in his official capacity at the firm but did not receive an engagement letter from the firm or bills.

In March 2020, Mr Bhachu advised that his fees for the final hearing, set for that August, would be £12,000. He asked for half to be paid immediately with the balance 14 days before the hearing.

In July 2020, he told Ms T to correspond with her ex-husband (who was a litigant-in-person) directly. He also advised her to tell the court she was acting in person and that he would remove himself from the record.

He emailed the husband as well to say he was without instruction and would not be entering into any correspondence.

The solicitor told Ms T that, as she had made no payment on account as requested four months earlier, there was no retainer.

She complained to Waterfords, after which “the firm took steps to officially adopt Ms T as a client”, the SRA recorded. They then came to an agreement in which the firm reimbursed what she had paid Mr Bhachu plus an amount in compensation, and in return the firm came off the court record.

Mr Bhachu resigned from the firm. The final hearing had to be adjourned whilst Ms T found alternative representation.

The SRA said his admitted misconduct was “serious” and showed a lack of integrity. “Members of the public would not expect a solicitor to provide their client with their personal bank details for payments on account of costs. Monies should be paid to the firm’s client account.”

In mitigation, the SRA said this was an isolated incident, Mr Bhachu has an otherwise clear regulatory history, and had co-operated fully with the SRA’s investigation.

He “has admitted he made an error in receiving the payments into his personal account and acknowledged his actions fell below the standards expected of him”.

A fine of £10,402 was the “appropriate outcome”, because the conduct was serious “but not so serious that sanction by the [Solicitors Disciplinary] Tribunal is necessary or proportionate”.

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