A solicitor was verbally abusive to a client and attempted to dissuade them from continuing a complaint against him, it has emerged – and the pair were related.
Mohammed Imran Hussain has been fined £10,000 for this and also submitting an “ambiguous” explanation to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) about the complaint.
However, the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, approving both changes to the allegations made against the solicitor and a statement of agreed facts and proposed outcome reached by the SRA and Mr Hussain, showed how the regulator significantly diluted its original accusations against him.
Mr Hussain was admitted as a solicitor in 2003 and at the time was a salaried partner at JD Spicer Zeb Solicitors in Birmingham. He now practises on his own account at MI Solicitors.
He represented ‘Client A’ – to whom he is related – at a criminal trial in August 2016 where he was convicted of assault. Client A complained to the SRA the following April.
The SRA charged Mr Hussain with failing to account to JD Spicer for £1,000 he received on account of costs from Client A, half into his personal bank account and half in cash.
The solicitor maintained that the first £500 was part repayment of a loan he had made to Client A and denied receiving the cash.
Ahead of the hearing, Client A told the SRA he wanted to withdraw his complaint and did not want the information he had provided to be used. He did not respond to being told the date of the hearing.
The SRA said it did not intend to obtain a witness summons to compel him to attend and instead dropped the allegation on the basis he was unlikely to attend and it could not prove it without him.
When first contacted by the SRA about the complaint, Mr Hussain replied by email: “This is the first I have ever heard that he [Client A] is alleging money was taken from him for work I carried out.”
The SRA initially alleged that this was misleading as there was email evidence that Client A and a colleague at JD Spicer had raised it with Mr Hussain.
But Mr Hussain said he considered that the client was referring to payments made to the firm, rather than him individually, and so his assertion was not misleading.
The SRA accepted it was unlikely to be able to prove the allegation and amended it to say he provided an “ambiguous explanation” that was “capable of being misunderstood”.
The statement said: “The public would expect solicitors to provide clear and unambiguous explanations to their regulator and [Mr Hussain’s] ambiguous explanation would undermine public confidence in him and in the delivery of legal services.”
In November 2017, Mr Hussain telephoned the client, mainly about his complaint to the SRA, in which he was “abusive to Client A and his family”.
The statement went on: “This in turn led to Client A retaliating. [Mr Hussain] was fearful of Client A’s complaint leading to a loss of his livelihood, noting that he would see Client A before the SDT, so he invited him to withdraw his complaints.”
Mr Hussain was aware that the conversation was being recorded “but that did not deter him from being abusive”.
Following a review of the transcript, the SRA dropped its original allegation that the call was threatening, but said the abuse and attempt to persuade Client A to drop his complaint lacked integrity.
In mitigation, which was not endorsed by the SRA, Mr Hussain accepted that his email was unclear but said there was no intention to mislead the SRA; he apologised for it being ambiguous.
He claimed he was ill at the time of the telephone call and this “coloured what he said”. But he agreed he should not have abused Client A: “He was speaking to a family member and that led to the use of language which was ore colourful than the language [he] would normally use in a discussion of a professional nature.”
The SRA said the £10,000 fine was a proportionate sanction, with which the tribunal agreed.