Suspension for barrister who failed to pay former law firm partner

Debts: Barrister deliberately prolonged proceedings

A barrister who failed to comply with a court order to pay £54,600 to a former salaried partner in his law firm has been suspended for six months by a Bar disciplinary tribunal.

The tribunal found that Zaheer Ahmad, who has appealed the decision to the High Court, “deliberately prolonged” court proceedings in the hope that the claim against him “might ultimately be unenforceable”.

Mr Ahmad owned and ran the law firm Regents & Co Solicitors (Solicitor-Advocate) Ltd between 2007 and October 2019.

He was called to the Bar in October 2011, and it was “irrelevant” that he did not practise as a barrister until October 2019.

The tribunal heard that, “while practising as a solicitor and being an unregistered barrister”, Mr Ahmad was reprimanded by a Bar disciplinary tribunal in 2014 for using “his qualification as a barrister as a marketing tool”.

He employed Mr H, a solicitor, as a salaried partner at Regents & Co between June 2011 and May 2013.

Mr H launched proceedings in 2014, claiming he had not been paid sums owing to him under a partnership agreement.

Mr Ahmad failed to comply in time with a direction for service of witness statements and on the first day of what was meant to be a multi-track trial, District Judge Swan refused the application for relief from sanctions for the late filing of evidence, refused the defendants’ application to adjourn the trial, struck out the defence, and entered judgment in favour of the claimant.

Mr Ahmad and Regents were ordered to pay £54,600 plus £9,400 on account of costs.

Mr Ahmad “has always maintained that the judgment was unfair and unjust because neither he nor Regents were allowed to present their defence,” the tribunal noted.

He challenged it in a series of hearings over the following years but the order was upheld.

in December 2020, Mr H reported Mr Ahmad to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) for failure to comply with the court order. The barrister said he was still seeking to overturn the judgment, while Mr H’s solicitors have threatened bankruptcy proceedings.

The tribunal said the barrister had been “out of the country at various times between 2015 and 2022”, latterly sitting in a judicial capacity in Pakistan.

Despite a number of unsuccessful appeals by Mr Ahmad, the “bottom line” was that the initial amount, together with interest at the judgment rate for the first six years, remained owing.

It was not until May 2023 that the barrister began to address the debt, with £42,500 so far paid by instalments.

The tribunal said that throughout “the entire period”, Mr Ahmad’s stance had been “that of an aggrieved judgment debtor”.

It found that the barrister had behaved in a way likely to diminish trust and confidence in the profession. He had also behaved in a way “which could reasonably be seen by the public to undermine his integrity”.

The tribunal considered whether Mr Ahmad “might simply have been obstinate and might have just hoped that the case would go away”, but was satisfied that he “deliberately prolonged the court proceedings in the hope that the claim might ultimately be unenforceable”.

It was clear from a letter to the BSB in 2022 that Mr Ahmad was “of the opinion that once the judgment was more than six years old it could not be enforced”.

Mr Ahmad made no formal response to the charges but it was “clear from the correspondence and written submissions” that he did not admit them.

On sanction, the tribunal rejected the suggestion that Mr Ahmad had expressed remorse: “Far from it. The respondent still maintains that the successful claimant is disreputable and ultimately dishonest.”

The tribunal decided that the rule breaches were “so serious that only a period of suspension is justified”.

Mr Ahmad was suspended for six months, which will not take effect until the High Court has considered his appeal. He was also ordered to pay £2,500 in costs.

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