The “chaotic” situation at a solicitor’s firm was no excuse for her failure to pay stamp duty to the HMRC, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has ruled.
The SDT said Dalida Jhugroo’s recklessness in failing to make the payments needed to register title to a property in London amounted to a lack of integrity, and ordered her to be struck off.
The tribunal said it was still not known what had happened to the £28,150 received for her client’s stamp duty and Land Registry application fee.
“The respondent knew she had received a significant amount of client money for a specific and important purpose and she failed to carry out that purpose,” the SDT said.
“The tribunal was satisfied that in the circumstances of this case, the respondent’s conduct had been reckless. She had failed to turn her mind to the proper interests of her client and carry out Ms L’s instructions.
“Whilst the (perhaps) chaotic situation of the firm provided a context for this misconduct, it was not an excuse as the respondent had allowed matters to reach the point where her firm was dysfunctional.
“On the facts of this case, the respondent’s recklessness in failing to deal with the payments needed to register Ms L’s title was at a level which amounted to a lack of integrity.”
The tribunal said that Ms Jhugroo had been suspended for three years by the SDT in June 2012 for a range of offences, including breaches of the accounts rules, providing banking facilities for clients with no underlying legal transactions and withdrawing money from client account on behalf of clients in excess of the amount held for them.
At her latest tribunal hearing, the SDT found that all the allegations against Ms Jhugroo made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had been proved.
These included failing to act in the best interests of her client, failing to act with integrity and failing to return money to the client as soon as there was no longer any proper reason to retain it.
The tribunal heard in SRA v Jhugroo (case no.11455-2015) that Ms Jhugroo was a partner at Hartington Law in London’s West End. When the partnership was dissolved in April 2010, she continued to trade alone until the firm closed in November 2010.
The SRA received a complaint from a firm of solicitors in August 2014 that a client’s title to a property in central London had not been registered by Hartington Law, leading to an investigation by the regulator.
The SDT said that, in an e-mail to the SRA in October 2015, Ms Jhugroo confirmed that completion money had been received in full and the property was not registered.
“No explanation had been given about what happened to the monies provided for SDLT and registration fee (totalling £28,150) thereafter.”
The tribunal noted that the conduct had happened when the solicitor was trying to close her firm, after the departure of her business partner, and the argument in Ms Jhugroo’s e-mail to the SRA about the “hectic” situation and that the failure to register the property was not deliberate, but was an oversight.
However, the tribunal said there was a period of almost two months between completion of the purchase and the closure of the firm, which was “ample time to notice and deal with all the post-completion matters”.
Ms Jhugroo was not present at the tribunal hearing, and did not offer any mitigation. The SDT accepted that she had had “no specific intention to act unprofessionally”, but the harm caused to the client had been serious. Her title to a property, which she had purchased for nearly £700,000, had not been registered and she had lost the chance to sell the property when she wanted to do so in 2014.
The SDT concluded: “The seriousness of the respondent’s misconduct, particularly where she had not shown sufficient insight into her misconduct, was at the highest level and no lesser sanction than striking off the roll was appropriate and proportionate.”
Ms Jhugroo was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £4,816.