A solicitor who tried to “juggle” client money to meet her firm’s needs, and to claim that purchases from a cosmetics website were for the business, has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) accepted that Shazia Anjum did not intend for her clients to lose out, and some of the improper transfers she made were to give effect to client instructions, but it said she knew what she was doing was wrong.
“The conduct was planned and took place over a long period of several months. The tribunal considered that [she] was in a position of trust as regards client money, and that the circumstances of the misconduct were entirely within her control.”
Ms Anjum, admitted in 2010, ran Manchester firm Premium Law, which was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in September 2017, a decision upheld after she challenged it in court.
The SDT said it did not find her “an impressive or credible witness”.
It explained: “The oral evidence she gave was at odds with accounts she had provided previously in several areas, and in some cases with the account set out in her witness statement produced for these proceedings.”
She moved client money around, sometimes to pay for shortfalls on other client accounts and also into a bank account she used for both personal and business purchases.
This did not make it an office account, the SDT said, adding: “The tribunal did not consider that her contention that the payment for ‘Look Fantastic’ [a beauty and cosmetics website] may have been office related was plausible.”
The pattern of transfers and the very low balances on the firm’s accounts “suggested that Premium Law was struggling financially”, and it appeared that she was “dipping into” client funds in order to meet the firm’s obligations.
While rejecting Ms Anjum’s contention that the clients had consented to the transfers, the tribunal accepted that no clients lost any money and their various completions were not affected.
She “genuinely considered” that she could remedy the breaches “in such a way that no-one lost out and that she could ‘square the circle’”.
But she knew what she had done was wrong and fabricated documents to justify her actions in relation to two clients. “The tribunal had no doubt that ordinary decent people would regard such conduct as dishonest.”
The SDT further found that, when the SRA intervened in the firm, Ms Anjum tried to persuade a client to pay their fees into another bank account, which it said was dishonest as well.
Other proven allegations were that she failed to deliver up all client files to the intervention agent – despite being told she had to do this, she returned some files directly to clients – had represented herself as a barrister without making it clear that she was non-practising, failed to return £2,000 promptly to one client after he withdrew his instructions, and breached the accounts rules.
Deciding that it had to strike her off, the SDT said Ms Anjum “appeared to regard the breaches and mistakes as minor and technical”. The tribunal did not share this assessment “and considered the lack of insight heightened the continuing risk to the public”.
She was also ordered to pay costs of £52,000.