Strike-off for solicitor who lied to SRA about firm’s closure

PII: Solicitor took on new clients when he should not have done

A solicitor who lied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) after failing to renew his firm’s professional indemnity insurance has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Rajinder Heer not only breached the indemnity insurance rules but “deliberately and dishonestly concealed the position from the SRA, intervention agents, a third-party firm of solicitors and his clients”.

Mr Heer, admitted in November 2013, was one of three directors and the main shareholder of Coventgate Law, an alternative business structure based in Rochester, Kent. He also held the compliance officer roles; the other two directors were not solicitors.

Coventgate’s insurance expired on 10 July 2021 and it entered the extended policy period (EPP), meaning that it could not take on any new clients after 30 days.

When the firm’s cessation period ended on 10 October 2021, and it had still not found new indemnity insurance, it was no longer permitted to practise. Mr Heer had attempted to set up a new firm but the SRA refused to authorise it.

At the end of December 2021, the SRA was contacted by another law firm, acting for buyer in a transaction in which Coventgate was acting for the seller and querying its status.

The SRA launched an investigation, which found in January 2022 that Mr Heer’s firm had “continued to act” for three clients. The regulator closed the firm the following month.

The SDT said that, despite knowing the rules on the EPP and CP, Mr Heer “was continuing to work on files, including new matters, as was clearly established by uncontested evidence” from a former client.

Mr Heer told the SRA that he was in the process of writing to clients advising them to instruct a new firm and confirmed that he had “done no legal work on these files at all” since before the end of the CP. Neither statement was true.

Mr Heer told the SDT he was “completely confused about how I interpreted the rules as not having insurance in place caused me significant distress”.

The tribunal said: “In his representations made to the SRA, Mr Heer denied dishonesty and said any omissions were due to a genuine misunderstanding as to the insurance position.”

However, it found he had acted dishonestly. “Having told the SRA that he was writing to all his clients, Mr Heer had in fact done nothing of the sort.

“Similarly, having told the SRA that he had secured the consent of a number of clients to await new authorisation, in fact that had not happened at all and he knew that authorisation was not going to be forthcoming.”

The misleading information was “not an oversight or an error, but was part of a pattern of deliberate behaviour aimed at concealing the true position as regards his insurance and/or his compliance with his professional obligations, depending on his audience”.

Mr Heer was also found to have committed “multiple breaches” of the accounts rules.

The tribunal “noted what Mr Heer had said about his personal circumstances, which it acknowledged would have been a strain on him personally”, but he had not demonstrated that they related to his dishonesty.

He was struck off and ordered to pay just under £11,000 in costs.

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