Solicitor “tried to get assault complainant to withdraw statement”

Mold Crown Court: Eight-month sentence

A solicitor who tried to get someone he employed to persuade the alleged victim of a sexual assault to withdraw her statement has been struck off by a tribunal.

Mohammed Riaz, also known as John Washington, was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice as a result, and jailed for eight months.

Mr Riaz, who qualified in 2015, owned a hotel in North Wales at the time the allegation of sexual assault was made against his brother.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) told the disciplinary tribunal that Mr Riaz used conversations with a manager of his hotel to try and persuade the complainant against his brother to withdraw her statement.

A local newspaper report of the trial in September 2016 at Mold Crown Court said he asked the manager to take the woman out for a drink, but the staff member recorded the conversation using a mobile phone hidden in her bra.

Ultimately the case against Mr Riaz’s brother was not taken forward anyway.

Sentencing him, His Honour Judge Parry said: “This is a very serious matter because it strikes at the very root of our system of justice. A very serious criminal offence had been alleged. It was in the early stages of investigation and you sought to influence the main witness, the complainant.

“You sought to do that by utilising a person over whom you had influence, a person whose job depended on you… The public interest demands that there must be custodial sentences.”

In June 2017, Mr Riaz told the SRA that he was innocent and planned to appeal, asking that the disciplinary proceedings be suspended until that happened. But the Court of Appeal confirmed eight months later that it had no record of any application.

Mr Riaz did not attend the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing but the tribunal decided that he had voluntarily absented himself from it and went ahead anyway.

The ruling said: “The tribunal considered that, as a qualified solicitor, [Mr Riaz] must have known that seeking to influence a potential witness in the early stages of the investigation into allegations of serious criminal conduct was thoroughly inappropriate.

“[He] was relatively inexperienced but he must have been aware of this fundamental point.”

In mitigation, the tribunal noted that Mr Riaz had reported himself to the SRA, while the misconduct was of brief duration and described by the sentencing judge as entirely out of character in an otherwise hardworking, industrious life.

But this “did not outweigh the seriousness or the harm caused to the reputation of the profession and the public’s trust in it” – a strike-off was the appropriate sanction.

The local news said Mr Riaz’s barrister had explained how he came from Afghanistan as a refugee, was granted asylum and was now a British citizen who had lived in the UK for 20 years.

Mr Riaz had done taxi work at the same time as studying law and qualifying as a solicitor. He was also a businessman who had a Subway franchise and then bought the hotel.

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