A sole practitioner who claimed more than twice the criminal costs he was entitled to after successfully defending a client has been fined £2,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Dr Farooq Bajwa, based in central London, said he had “very little experience of criminal defence work” and had never previously – or since – made an application following a defence costs order.
In an agreement with the SRA that means his case will not be referred to a disciplinary tribunal, Dr Bajwa admitted applying to the National Taxing Team (NTT) for £7,300 plus VAT from central funds to cover his legal fees for a client, despite having agreed to limit his costs to £3,000.
In mitigation, the solicitor said he had “genuinely misunderstood the relevant process and requirements after obtaining erroneous information from others” and no complaint was made by the NTT.
The SRA said: “The amount ultimately recovered by Dr Bajwa following assessment of his claim exceeded the amount which he was properly entitled to claim by only £600. The financial loss caused by his misconduct has therefore been modest.”
The SRA said an investigation officer inspected the firm, Farooq Bajwa & Co, in 2015 and produced a report the following January.
“The report identified concerns with respect to an application for costs from central funds which Dr Bajwa had made upon behalf of his client (Mr A), following his successful defence of Mr A.”
“Errors were made with funds received and returned to Mr A and also with regards to the claim made to the National Taxing Team.”
The SRA said that by submitting the application to central funds having previously agreed that his costs would not exceed £3,000, Dr Bajwa breached SRA Principles 1 (upholding the rule of law), 2 (acting with integrity) and 6 (maintaining public trust in the profession).
The regulator said he breached the accounts rules by transferring £4,200 from client account to office account, before returning it to Mr A.
The SRA said the sole practitioner’s misconduct had the potential to mislead clients and the NTT.
Mr Bajwa was rebuked, fined £2,000 and agreed to pay costs of £9,500.
He made undertakings with the SRA not to undertake work involving claims on public funds without obtaining its approval and “without first satisfactorily completing appropriate and relevant training in public funded work and costs and providing evidence of the training to the SRA”.
Dr Bajwa agreed that the undertakings would be reflected in a condition on his practising certificate.