Solicitor’s “manifest incompetence” in employing banned barrister

SDT: Arrangements with client highly ill-advised

A solicitor who employed a banned barrister as a consultant without checking his identity or his record with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has been fined £20,000.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said the fact “very basic checks were not undertaken” by Zeeshan Saqib Mian was “not calculated” but “could not be described as accidental”; it “displayed manifest incompetence”.

The tribunal heard that the banned barrister, referred as to as SAH, was disbarred in 2011 following a fraud conviction.

At some point in early 2014, Mr Mian, practising at Denning Solicitors in East London, agreed that SAH could “work as a consultant for the firm”.

Mr Mian admitted that he did not obtain identification documents from SAH or check with the BSB to ensure that he was authorised. The solicitor instructed SAH to represent a debt recovery client at the High Court in March 2014.

SAH appeared again at the High Court in June that year on behalf of other clients and obtained an injunction, though Mr Mian said the application was made “without his knowledge, authority or consent”.

The disbarred barrister later said he had “run into difficulties at court” and asked Mr Mian to confirm he was a consultant at the firm. The solicitor provided him with an email confirming that SAH was the firm’s “in-house counsel/senior consultant”.

Mr Mian admitted “manifest incompetence” in causing or allowing SAH to exercise a right of audience before the court when he was not entitled to.

The SDT heard the solicitor worked at Denning Solicitors between January 2008 and May 2016, shortly before it was closed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for unrelated reasons.

Mr Mian, who qualified as a solicitor in 2007, was called to the Bar in November 2016.

He agreed to the facts behind a further allegation made by the SRA about his time at Denning, relating to the use of client account as a banking facility, but denied misconduct.

The SDT heard that Mr Mian acted for Client E, which according to its brochure was a property company that was raising £50m from investors to develop and upgrade “prime Central London locations”.

Denning entered into a retainer with Client E in October 2014, but it ended in March 2015 without the firm carrying out any legal work in relation to the individual investor contracts.

However, the law firm received over £145,500 into its client bank account from individual investors. Over £100,000 of this was transferred to Client E, less the fees charged by the law firm for each transaction.

The SDT found that there was no “meaningful link” between work carried out for Client E, such as compliance checks and wider legal work, and the payments received by the firm from individual investors.

“The actions involved in providing a banking facility involved a breach of trust to the extent that this helped create an environment which conferred trust and an aura of security on the payments that individual investors were making.”

The tribunal described the arrangements as “highly ill-advised” and said Mr Mian had given a “woeful lack of prominence to considerations of appropriate financial stewardship”.

He was found to have breached principle 6 (acting in a way that maintains public trust) and the accounts rules by allowing the firm’s bank account to be used as a banking facility.

However, the SDT accepted that Mr Mian had taken advice from the SRA’s professional ethics helpline before entering the retainer and he was not found to have acted with a lack of integrity.

In mitigation, the solicitor argued that he was the victim of a “compelling deception” in employing the barrister SAH and “anyone could have been duped in the way he was”.

He was ordered to pay a fine of £20,000, and £25,000 costs.

Conditions were imposed on Mr Mian for two years preventing him from working as a sole practitioner, being a law firm owner or being a COLP or COFA.

He was also banned from holding client money or being a signatory on any client account.

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