Solicitor struck off for lying to avoid paying legal aid debt

SDT: Actions were planned and deliberate

A solicitor who lied about not having a bank account or any income other than benefits to avoid having to repay a debt to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal also found that Raj Rajan Mariaddan had misled a potential professional indemnity insurer about his regulatory history and then practised without insurance.

Mr Mariaddan, who qualified in 1995, was a sole practitioner in North London until April 2019 under the name of John Street Solicitors. He then took on a partner and started the new practice John Street Solicitors LLP.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) shut down the firm in January 2021. It discovered that Mr Mariaddan was in debt to the LAA from the previous practice and in 2019 had requested to pay it off in instalments.

In a questionnaire sent to the LAA’s solicitors and which he declared to be true, he falsely stated that he did not have a bank account in his name; his only income was around £500 in disability living allowance; he had not earned any income for at least two years; and that he had been unemployed since 2015.

The SDT rejected Mr Mariaddan’s argument that he was “just muddled” – he said his ex-wife, as his registered carer, had control of the HSBC bank account.

It decided that he “knowingly and deliberately” failed to disclose the existence of the account “as it would show that he was receiving monies from the firm that he had not disclosed in the questionnaire”.

It went on: “The tribunal did not find the respondent’s evidence that he considered that drawings were not income to be credible.

“The respondent’s explanation was that as he had to pay bills, the monies he received were not income. The tribunal found that explanation to be extraordinary.”

It also rejected his argument that, as he was not working full-time, he was unemployed. But it had not been misleading to describe himself as semi-retired.

An application to a broker to renew the new firm’s professional indemnity insurance in August 2020 misleadingly said the firm had not been under SRA investigation, that Mr Mariaddan had not been made subject to conditions on his practising certificate, and that he had not received a penalty from the SDT.

In fact, during the 2000s, he had twice been fined by the SDT, twice faced sanctions from the SRA and had conditions imposed on his practising certificate for three years.

Mr Mariaddan said his office manager had completed the form and he had not checked it thoroughly. He claimed that he believed he did not need to disclose sanctions imposed more than six years earlier nor an SRA investigation which had not concluded.

His QC submitted that he only been careless and had no intention to mislead.

The SDT did not accept this and said his conduct was dishonest. He had either read the proposal form and deliberately did not amend it or did not read it “so as to turn a blind eye to answers he knew would be incorrect as he knew that his office manager was not in possession of all the relevant information needed to ensure that the answers were true and accurate”.

In light of the inaccurate information, and as the firm had elected to pay its premiums monthly, both Mr Mariaddan and his partner were required to sign personal guarantees to secure cover. Neither did so the offer was withdrawn, but the firm continued to operate.

Mr Mariaddan told the SRA in January 2021 that the firm had up to eight live files and was holding £17,689 in its client account. He said he had taken the file files and left the premises.

However, the firm’s website was still active and provided Mr Mariaddan’s contact details, suggesting that he was still offering services to the public, the SRA said.

The SDT concluded that Mr Mariaddan was “motivated by his desire to obtain insurance for the firm and to avoid repaying the debt it was said that he owed to the LAA”.

“The tribunal found that [his] actions were planned and deliberate. He was solely and directly responsible for the circumstances giving rise to the misconduct.

“He was an experienced solicitor who had appeared at the tribunal on two previous occasions, one of which related to the provision of inaccurate and/or misleading information.”

The fact there had been no client complaints was not “such an unusual circumstance that it was exceptional such that striking the respondent from the roll amounted to a disproportionate and inappropriate sanction”.

The SDT struck off Mr Mariaddan and ordered him to pay costs of £31,000.

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