A solicitor who lied to potential insurers, on an application for judicial review and then his regulator – in a bid to evade disciplinary action – has finally been struck off.
Imtiaz Ali was initially meant to appear before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) in February 2017 but it was adjourned due to medical reports that said he was not fit to attend the hearing due to mental illness.
However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) subsequently received evidence that a witness statement from his firm’s COLP, stating that Mr Ali had been on sick leave, was actually false.
There were subsequent examinations by doctors who were told that Mr Ali could not leave his house and had various memory problems, such as being unable to remember his name and date of birth.
But the SRA found evidence that Mr Ali had actually been working at the firm where he was a partner, Malik Law Chambers, during this period, dealing with complex legal issues.
Mr Ali sought another adjournment of the hearing in April 2019, but the tribunal rejected it.
It said: “The tribunal did not find that the respondent was not unwell, having read the available medical evidence.”
But it found beyond reasonable doubt that he had “exaggerated his symptoms to a very considerable degree”, and there was no fresh medical evidence to support the application.
Mr Ali was born in 1967 and had been a registered foreign lawyer since 1997. In 2009, he accepted a severe reprimand under a regulatory settlement agreement with the SRA.
The SDT found that, in 2011, he had “significantly understated” Malik Law Chambers’ gross fee income in a proposal form for professional indemnity insurance (PII).
It rejected Mr Ali’s argument that he had relied on inaccurate estimates provided by the firm’s accountant, saying no evidence of the estimates was provided and the figures included for 2009 and 2010 – in each case less than a third of the actual amount – were “so wildly wrong that it was wholly implausible that the 2010 figure could have been based on a genuine estimate from a credible accountant”.
The actual figure for 2009 was known at the time and “no explanation had been provided for the error”.
Mr Ali also replied ‘no’ to a question about whether any fee-earner had been subject to an SRA investigation in the previous 10 years. It was “implausible” that he would have forgotten the reprimand, the SDT said.
He was found to have again provided misleading information on a proposal form in 2014 by saying the firm had had no previous dealings with the SRA and no awards made against it by the Legal Ombudsman – when there had been several – and no fee-earner had entered into a regulatory settlement agreement with the SRA.
In both instances, the SDT concluded that Mr Ali had acted dishonestly.
The tribunal also found that Mr Ali had submitted an application for judicial review (of a decision to refuse a client leave to remain in the UK) out of time and that the reason he gave for it was misleading. The client lost their chance for the application to be heard.
In deciding to strike off Mr Ali, the SDT said his motivation had been to obtain cheaper insurance and “cover for the poor service” that the immigration client had received.
Despite the medical evidence and unspecified events in Mr Ali’s personal life in 2011, the tribunal said none of the mitigating factors set out in its sanctions guidance applied.
“The tribunal considered that the inescapable conclusion was that, following the instigation of proceedings by [the SRA], the respondent had made every effort through misleading medical experts… to avoid being held responsible for his misconduct.
“Given this extended and extreme lack of candour with, and deception of, his regulator by the respondent, the tribunal did not consider that any plausible mitigation could be advanced.”
It also ordered him to pay costs of £35,667.