“Tragedy” of struck-off solicitor – but High Court upholds dishonesty finding

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6 March 2015

Accounts: money overdrawn

Accounts: money overdrawn

A solicitor with an “unblemished” record stretching back many years has failed in his attempt to appeal a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) decision that found him guilty of dishonesty.

Mr Justice Holman said the striking-off of Ranbir Singh Bains was a “great personal and professional tragedy”.

But he comprehensively dismissed an appeal against the tribunal’s ruling that Mr Bains’ behaviour had been dishonest, which would have then meant a review of the decision to strike him off.

Delivering judgment in Bains v Solicitors Regulation Authority [2015] EWHC 506 (Admin), Holman J said the “essential background” to the case was that the clients of Mr Bains and his firm included four linked or related clients “who appear to have had very large property funds and dealings”.

The judge said the first allegation was that Mr Bains authorised payments on behalf of one or more of these clients which exceeded the money held by him on their behalf.

The essence of the second charge was that solicitors could not permit clients to overdraw money from client account.

“From time to time it came about that one or more of these four clients were showing a debit within the client account. In order to cover that up, a ledger transfer was made from credit funds standing to the credit of another client or clients.

“During the course of the hearing this morning, Mr Bains (who represents himself before me as he did before the tribunal) described these activities as ‘a short-term fix’.”

Holman J said that in relation to this second charge the tribunal decided that Mr Bains “had acted dishonestly by the standards of honest and reasonable people”.

Mr Bains advanced several grounds to challenge the dishonesty finding, including that the tribunal did not take sufficient account of his physical and psychiatric health.

Holman J said: “There is no doubt that the tribunal had his medical evidence and the position with regard to his health well in mind. They also had well in mind the personal and professional pressures that he had been suffering under from the unexpected death of his partner [in the firm] and the illness and later death of his mother.”

However, the judge said the SDT was satisfied that Mr Bains was not disadvantaged in conducting his own case by ill health.

“Having now met Mr Bains for some hours today, it is quite clear to me that although his health problems persist and require regular medication, he is in no way disadvantaged in conducting this hearing before me.

“He is, if I may respectfully say so, a man of obvious high intelligence. He has a very thorough grasp of this case and the documents, and he has presented his case with clarity and cogency.”

Challenges based on the competence of the SRA’s forensic investigating officer and the importance of erroneous evidence she gave were also dismissed for not undermining the tribunal’s decision.

The judge concluded: “I have a considerable element of sympathy for Mr Bains. It seems highly unlikely that he would have found himself in this position but for the untimely death of his partner and the pressures that were placed upon him by certain clients whom he thought were honourable and good for the money when, in truth, they were not.

“But for the reasons I have given, I am not able to conclude that there is any respect in which the decision of the tribunal was wrong or reached unfairly, and this appeal must be dismissed.”

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