Solicitor struck off over falsified decree absolute

Divorce: The decree absolute that wasn’t

A solicitor who led a client to believe he was divorced after she falsified a decree absolute has been struck off.

Ebru Atas also admitted having the client pay her in cash, which she kept rather than give to her employer, as well as getting a legally aided client to pay fees he was not liable for into her personal bank account.

Ms Atas was a paralegal and then, after qualifying in 2017, a solicitor at North London firm Kilic & Kilic.

According to an agreed outcome between Ms Atas and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), she was sacked for gross misconduct in September 2019 when it came to light that she had demanded that a client in receipt of legal aid pay fees of £1,635 into her bank account – he thought he was paying the firm.

The client said he felt pressured by Ms Atas into making the payments.

Director Filiz Kilic told the SRA that, after asking what had happened, Ms Atas said: “I must have made a mistake and charged him privately for my own fees.” She refunded the client by way of a series of postal orders.

Following the dismissal, Ms Kilic reviewed all of Ms Atas’s cases, one of which involved Client B, a Turkish national who had instructed the firm two years earlier to act in his divorce. Ms Atas quoted a fee of £1,630, which the client said he paid in cash at her insistence.

She provided him with invoices that made it look like the money had been received by the firm, when it had not been.

In October 2018, Ms Atas told Client B that the divorce was completed and provided him with a decree absolute, which he used to apply for it to be recognised for the purpose of proceedings in Turkey.

Investigations by the firm after Ms Etas left showed that the decree absolute was a fake – the copy on the firm’s system was an editable Word document that bore a court seal from the family court at Bury St Edmunds. The court said it had no trace of documents in the name of the client or his wife.

After being informed by Ms Kilic about what happened, Client B said Ms Atas called him to say that what the firm had told him was incorrect and that he should trust her as his legal representative. She said the decree absolute was genuine and that he should not return to the firm for assistance.

Client B told Ms Atas that he had chosen to “trust the firm”.

The firm agreed to conduct the divorce proceedings for Client B on a pro bono basis.

Ms Atas did not explain why she acted as she did but, in mitigation which was not agreed by the SRA, she claimed she was under a lot of stress, as well as in debt, and was suffering from a medical condition.

She said she had been given a huge workload and significant responsibility, despite her lack of experience, and had little support, claims that Ms Kilic denied.

Ms Atas placed on record “her shame and regret at her actions for which she wishes to apologise”.

The SRA recorded: “It is [her] wish notwithstanding the circumstances of the matter to depart her former profession with dignity.”

Approving the agreement to strike her off, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said: “The proven misconduct breached two fundamental tenets of the solicitors’ profession namely (a) proper dealings with client money and (b) the honesty and integrity required of solicitors in all of their affairs.

“[She] flagrantly breached both tenets deliberately and repeatedly from July 2018 until September 2019. She was solely responsible for her misconduct which represented a grave departure from the standards expected of solicitors.”

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