The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has savaged two witnesses who gave evidence on behalf of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) against a Yorkshire sole practitioner.
The tribunal described one of them, a divorce client, as “dishonest”, and said the other, a family law solicitor, had given evidence that was “discredited, unreliable and, in part, untrue”.
Counsel for Rajinder Kumar Puri told the SDT that Mr Puri had reported the two women to the police for “perjury, perverting the course of justice and contempt of court”.
The SDT described the evidence given by divorce client WM against Mr Puri, principal of Bradford firm Rothery Inesons, as “wholly discredited and thoroughly unreliable”.
WM admitted during cross-examination that her initial complaint to the SRA that she had not received a client care letter was incorrect, and that she had lied to the Legal Ombudsman when she claimed to be liable for £3,000 in legal costs. She made several other concessions about the evidence she had provided.
Describing WM as a “dishonest witness”, the SDT found that she had also lied in her evidence to the tribunal about her communications with family law solicitor RS, who helped her as a McKenzie Friend in reopening her divorce settlement.
WM, who complained about “pushed” into the original settlement by Mr Puri “to her detriment”, admitted that the settlement she agreed by consent in July 2019 with RS’s assistance, was “essentially the same” as the initial financial settlement agreed when Mr Puri acted for her in September 2018.
The SDT said it was “extremely troubled” by the evidence given via video link by RS, describing it as “misleading, vague and defensive”. RS had tried to claim that her interactions with WM were privileged, before admitting that, as she was not a client, they could not be.
The tribunal concluded that RS’s evidence was “discredited, unreliable and, in part, untrue”.
Counsel for the SRA did not oppose the dismissal of 27 allegations against Mr Puri, including dishonesty, recklessness and manifest incompetence, on the grounds of no case to answer.
Mr Puri’s solicitor-advocate, Jonathan Goodwin, told the tribunal that the SRA’s extensive resources were thrown behind WM’s complaint without any assessment as to her probity, reliability and/or motive for reporting him.
The allegations had had “the very real potential to destroy and end” Mr Puri’s career and cost his seven employees their jobs.
The SDT dismissed two other sets of allegations made by the SRA against the solicitor on the grounds of no case to answer.
The first related to acting for an estate where there was an actual or potential conflict of interest. The SDT found no evidence of a conflict.
The second accused Mr Puri of drafting two incorrect attendance notes, one recording a meeting with a doctor who was a general visitor of the Court of Protection, and the other about a telephone call to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) with a ‘Karen’.
The SDT found “of particular significance” concessions made by the doctor that his witness statement contained “inaccurate and misleading statements”.
Turning to the allegations relating to the OPG, the SDT said it considered witness statements from nine members of staff called Karen. The statements were taken this year in relation to a phone call which took place in June 2016.
The SDT said that “given the passage of time that had passed”, it was “unsurprised” that none of the witnesses could remember the conversation.
Both sets of allegations were dismissed on the grounds of no case to answer, along with an associated allegation of dishonesty.
Mr Goodwin criticised the SRA for making these allegations without having first sought Mr Puri’s explanation for the attendance notes’ contents.
The only allegations the SDT found proved against Mr Puri related to overcharging a Court of Protection client in his role as a property and affairs deputy and overcharging another client while administering an estate.
The tribunal said Mr Puri was inexperienced in the role of deputy and raised bills to pay the firm’s overheads and salaries – there was no “nefarious gain”. However, he admitted acting with a lack of integrity.
Mr Puri was fined £7,500. The SRA made no application for costs, and as a result the tribunal made no order for costs.