A solicitor who lied to her client about the progress of her case and then to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) about it, and later to professional indemnity insurers, has been struck off.
Rizwana Jamil also failed to obtain an accountant’s report for six years because she knew doing so would lead to regulatory problems.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) upheld a litany of allegations against Ms Jamil, who qualified in 2001 and from 2008 traded in Bradford as RJ Solicitors. The SRA shut the firm down in May 2020.
Ms Jamil came to regulator’s attention after a complaint by ‘Client P’, who instructed the firm in June 2015 to apply to the Home Office for discretionary leave to remain in the UK.
However, with Client P becoming ever more concerned, it eventually emerged in February 2018 that the application had not been made, despite Ms Jamil telling her that it had been. The SDT found this conduct dishonest.
The solicitor blamed a former paralegal for not submitting the application – even though she had conduct of the case – but admitted not checking the file when responding to Client P.
The SRA undertook an 18-month desk-based investigation into the firm, during which time she failed to comply with requests for information and documents – and when she did, she provided “false and misleading” responses, such as saying there was no file. This too was dishonest.
In an insurance proposal submitted in 2018, Ms Jamil failed to declare that she had received any letters of complaint about the firm’s service, when she was already dealing with Client P’s complaint.
A year later, she said the firm was not being investigated by the SRA and had not been subject to a decision by the Legal Ombudsman, when in fact the latter had made an award in favour of Client P.
She claimed that these mistakes were borne out of a “lack of care” and completing the forms in rush under pressure from her broker. The tribunal rejected this and found she had acted dishonestly – her replies were a “disingenuous attempt on her part to downplay the risk profile of the firm”.
Ms Jamil had admitted the facts and breaches of various SRA principles, but denied that she had acted without integrity and, where alleged, dishonestly. The SDT disagreed.
She also admitted to a host of accounts rules breaches, having failed to maintain the firm’s accounts properly, including not arranging an accountant’s report since 2014, when it had been qualified.
The other breaches included making 207 transfers worth £135,000 from client to office account in just two weeks shortly before the intervention – a figure broadly in line with the firm’s annual turnover for the previous five years.
The solicitor said these all related to bills raised between 2016 and 2020, but the invoices she provided did not amount to that sum.
The failure to obtain an accountant’s report after 2014 was dishonest, the SDT found.
“The tribunal concluded that [her] decision to do so was motivated by the desire not to subject the firm to further forensic investigations which she knew would follow as a consequence of a submitting a qualified accountant’s report to the [SRA].
“That was, in the tribunal’s view, dishonest by the standards of the ordinary decent man.”
It added that, in relation to the other accounts rules breaches, Ms Jamil had acted recklessly. In relation to all the allegations where she had not been dishonest, the SDT said she had been manifestly incompetent.
Ms Jamil’s counsel said she accepted that she would be struck off and had appeared “in deference to the tribunal in order to explain why she had conducted herself in the manner that she did”.
The SDT concluded: “The tribunal found that [she] had acted dishonestly on numerous occasions in respect of four allegations spanning 2015 and 2020.
“It further found that she was manifestly incompetent and reckless on numerous occasions over a protracted period of time…
“The tribunal therefore concluded that the appropriate and proportionate sanction was an order striking [her] off the roll of solicitors.”
Ms Jamil was ordered to pay costs of £25,000.