A solicitor who kept the £1,000 his client paid for a court fee has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT heard that Shohaab Dar treated the money, paid into his personal account, as a “loan” and refused a request from his managing partner to return it.
It was only seven months later, when Mr Dar knew he was going to be referred to the SDT, that he returned the money.
“The tribunal was satisfied that there was a causal link between the two events and rejected the respondent’s evidence to the effect that it was a coincidence.
“At the heart of this case was the fact that he had retained money belonging to someone else without permission or good reason.”
The SDT heard that Mr Dar, admitted in 2002, was a solicitor at 2on in the City at the time of the incident. He had accepted instructions to represent clients S and M in a race discrimination claim relating to goods and services.
The claim had to be issued by 22 October 2018, to comply with the limitation period. The issue fee was £1,000. On the same day, Mr Dar asked Client S if he could produce a cheque for the fee, but Client S replied that he did not have a cheque book.
The law firm’s procedures meant that only the director of the firm had access to the firm’s client account and cheques had to be requested in advance. Mr Dar did not ask the firm for a cheque.
Instead, he asked the client to transfer the £1,000 to his personal bank account, which was done, but the issue fee was not paid.
The solicitor rejected a request from his managing partner at the end of November 2018 to repay the money and it was not until 30 May 2019 that the client was repaid.
The tribunal said Mr Dar gave “conflicting explanations” as to what had happened. The first was that he had given the cheque to the court, and he was waiting to see if it was “presented for payment”. The second was that “he did not have the funds to repay it”.
Finding that the solicitor had acted dishonestly, the SDT said the court had sent him a letter saying that “as far as it was concerned the fee had not been paid”. Despite his “contradictory evidence”, the tribunal was satisfied that Mr Dar had decided to treat the £1,000 as a loan.
The solicitor “knew, on his own evidence”, that he had not discussed retaining the money with the client and the fact the client had not chased him could not be taken as consent.
The solicitor was found to have failed to issue the claim within the limitation period and failed to inform Clients S and M, and his law firm that this was the case.
The firm lost £6,000 as a result of the events.
Separately, Mr Dar admitted failing to respond to “numerous” requests for information from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) relating to a claim made in April 2017 to the indemnity insurers providing the solicitor with run-off cover following the closure of his sole practice, Glade Law Limited, in 2014.
The SDT found that, between April and November 2018, Mr Dar made repeated promises to the SRA that he would comply with its requests, but failed to.
In mitigation, Mr Dar urged the tribunal not to strike him off, saying he had “always behaved ethically”, and that “he had a significant level of legal knowledge and he could use this to the benefit of society”.
He argued that the matters leading to the finding of dishonesty were a “one-off”. The SDT recorded: “He had genuinely thought that he was helping the client… He told the tribunal that he had no intention to permanently deprive the client of the funds, but accepted that the length of time in repayment was longer than it should have been.”
But the SDT said “his was a very serious breach of trust as client money was being held in the personal bank account of the client’s solicitor”.
It concluded that Mr Dar’s misconduct amounted to a “prolonged period of dishonesty” and he had “lacked insight and had not made open or frank admissions to the allegations”.
He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £8,400.