Solicitor struck off after misleading regulators

SDT: Public trust shattered

A solicitor who misled the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Insolvency Service, and failed to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman has been struck off.

Alvina Zia admitted to multiple other rule breaches, including failing to ensure that she had client consent to transfer files to another firm when hers went bust.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that she had been dishonest in various ways. “The trust the public placed in the profession is shattered when a solicitor is dishonest,” it said.

Ms Zia, who qualified in 2001, admitted most of the allegations against her but had asked the SDT to allow her to continue practising and earn a living from the law.

She operated Primax Law in Manchester from February 2012 to October 2015 and from July 2015 also Obelisk Law, which was wound up in December 2018. The SRA decided to intervene in Obelisk Law 18 months later.

Ms Zia contacted the SRA in May 2018, when the winding-up petition was presented, seeking assistance and informing the regulator that the firm’s client and office accounts had been frozen. The SRA unsuccessfully sought further information from her about what was going on.

After the firm closed down, she told the SRA that no clients had been transferred without their consent, but she was only able to produce 43 signed client authorities. There were 293 other matters ongoing.

Ms Zia said the process of obtaining consent “had not gone smoothly”, with some clients replying in writing, some not, and some giving oral permission. The SDT accepted that, contrary to the SRA’s allegation, she had not been dishonest in this regard.

Ms Zia gave misleading replies to statutory production notices issued by the SRA in relation to its investigation into matters at both firms, as well as to an Insolvency Service investigation into related issues.

Further, she provided a client with immigration advice after Obelisk Law had closed and she was not authorised to practise.

The client paid £2,000 for the advice and subsequently complained to the Legal Ombudsman. It ordered Ms Zia to pay the client £2,600, which she failed to do.

In mitigation, Ms Zia explained how changes in the personal injury market had led her to try and diversify her practice.

Both this and “unwarranted applications for payment and then insolvency proceedings from a supplier of vehicle damage reports she had instructed in connection with her personal injury work” had caused the business problems, and she said she also had personal problems at the time.

Though she claimed to have suffered physical health problems caused in part by stress and anxiety, she provided no medical evidence to support this.

The SDT found Ms Zia’s motivation “had been a financial one” – her business had “experienced difficulties and she had required income”.

It continued: “This had not been spontaneous but a deliberate course of action in which she had misled her regulator and others.”

Her conduct caused “significant” damage to the reputation of the profession and “a marked departure from the complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness expected of a solicitor”.

As well as dishonesty, she was found to have lacked integrity and not upheld public trust.

A strike-off is the usual sanction in cases of dishonesty and her mitigation did not meet the ‘exceptional circumstances’ test to deviate from this.

“The protection of the public and public confidence in the profession and the reputation of the profession required no lesser sanction than that she be removed from the roll,” the SDT concluded.

It also ordered her to pay costs of £48,000.

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