An experienced solicitor has been struck off after being convicted of fraudulently claiming housing benefit when she had savings that made her ineligible.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said this brought the profession into disrepute, despite Abosede Akinleye (AKA Panama and Adams) denying dishonesty.
Ms Akinleye was born in 1959 and qualified in 2001. She was convicted of fraud by false representation in an application for a discretionary housing benefit from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, after a jury found that she dishonestly and deliberately concealed a Post Office account with a balance of nearly £3,000.
The council paid her benefit of £5,130. She was sentenced to a 12 months’ community order and ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work
When the allegations were made, Ms Akinleye did not practise but sat as a lay member of the employment tribunal.
She accepted before the tribunal she had made a serious error of judgement, for which she was remorseful and apologised.
But she denied dishonesty, saying the Post Office account was held only for benefits paid to family members. The bulk of the cash was for a juvenile family member that she received as their trustee; she was not aware of what amount was in the account.
She also said in mitigation that she was homeless and living in temporary accommodation. She had been facing the threat of eviction. She had made the application for discretionary housing payments at a difficult time.
However, the tribunal said it had particularly noted the sentencing judge’s remarks at the trial in July 2016, when he said there was “no question of this having been an omission based on carelessness” and the jury were sure she had “deliberately set out to deceive”.
The judge also assessed her evidence on oath to have been both dishonest and manipulative.
Her application for leave to appeal was dismissed in November 2017.
Finding the allegation of professional misconduct proved, the tribunal recorded: “This was not how the public expected a solicitor to behave and clearly had not maintained the trust that the public placed in the respondent and the provision of legal services.”
It found her culpability was “high” and that the motivation for misconduct was “personal gain”.
Failing to fill in the benefits application form correctly was a deliberate and planned breach of trust by an experienced solicitor, although at the same time it had been a “one-off” and she had not deliberately misled the regulator – Ms Akinleye self-reported the conviction to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
However, the solicitor had “not shown any genuine insight” into “serious misconduct” at the “highest level”, the tribunal found.
While the tribunal was sympathetic to the difficulties outlined in mitigation, the “only appropriate sanction” was striking off. She was also ordered to pay costs of £3,300.