A solicitor who “shattered” public trust in the profession by making a fake personal injury (PI) claim through the law firm where he worked has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said that, although there were signs that Farrukh Abbas had acted in concert with a paralegal at Prime Law Solicitors in Ilford, Essex who had far more experience of PI matters than him, this did not displace his “high culpability”.
The SDT heard that Mr Abbas, admitted in 2014, worked for Chauhan Solicitors from admission until May 2020. He was also, from August 2017, a consultant at Prime Law Solicitors in Ilford, Essex. He was predominantly an immigration lawyer.
At the end of July 2017, after a crash involving his car, Mr Abbas instructed Prime Law to bring a PI claim valued at up to £10,000. However, the other driver provided evidence to his insurer that it had been Mr S – the paralegal – who was driving Mr Abbas’s car.
Mr Abbas replied with a witness statement rejecting this version of events and urging the insurer to settle. The solicitor later sent a medical report and an invoice for physiotherapy.
The insurer requested a further witness statement, supported by a statement of truth, at which point the firm told Mr Abbas that, “having considered all of the available evidence in this matter and as a result of your lack of co-operation”, it was dropping the case.
The Insurance Fraud Bureau reported the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Mr Abbas admitted that the driver was indeed Mr S and apologised for his “poor decision making”. He claimed it had been Mr S’s idea for him to claim.
Mr S disputed this, saying he had neither suggested nor run the claim. He said he had borrowed Mr Abbas’s car thinking he had fully comprehensive insurance allowing him to do so, but in fact it had lapsed. Both men said the firm itself was not aware of what happened.
Mr Abbas admitted pursuing a fabricated claim for damages, signing a witness statement containing a declaration of truth knowing it was untrue, providing untrue instructions and misleading information to a medical expert, and signing a declaration confirming that he agreed with the contents of the medical report. He also admitted dishonesty.
The SDT found that there was “some evidence of Mr [S’s] involvement from which an element of joint venture between Mr Abbas and Mr [S] could be inferred”.
This included Mr S’s reluctance to admit to being uninsured, “which may have given him a reason to propose the plan to Mr Abbas”. Neither witness “struck the tribunal as honest in giving their evidence”, it said.
Counsel for Mr Abbas said that at a time when his decision making was “impaired by his personal problems”, he had been led “by the nose” into the misconduct, described as “a ham-fisted, ill-thought-out, and unsophisticated fraud which had been bound to unravel under critical scrutiny”.
He questioned too why the SRA had not taken action against Mr S and/or the firm and its principals “who, at the least, supervised” the pair poorly.
But the SDT said the possible involvement of Mr S “did not displace Mr Abbas’ high culpability, as he had taken a knowing and full role in the matters giving rise to the misconduct”.
“The trust the public placed in the profession was shattered when a solicitor engaged in such behaviour, and in the pursuit of personal and unwarranted gain.”
The tribunal rejected the argument that the mitigation amounted to exceptional circumstances that meant a strike-off should not follow a finding of dishonesty.
The SRA claimed £24,000 in costs but, because of Mr Abbas’s very limited financial means, the SDT decided to make no order.
“To make a costs order against Mr Abbas would be unjustifiably punitive. He did not have the means to pay it, it would likely never be satisfied, and would remain a burden upon him for many years.”