A Bungle, yesterday
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has ordered that the SRA pay record legal costs of £228,000 for "improperly and unreasonably" prosecuting a solicitor.
The SRA had brought an action against Jamil Ahmud, a partner at Bloomsbury Law, alleging that he had dishonestly sought to recover inflated costs for his work. The case was based on the report of a costs draftsman, which was later found to be inaccurate.
The SRA commenced its investigation against Ahmud in 2016, without first speaking to the key client witness. The regulator only interviewed that witness in January 2020; some four years later. In July 2020 the SRA abandoned its prosecution, conceding there was no case to answer, in light of information gathered in the interview with the key client. The trial was due to start a month later.
At a hearing in September last year, the SDT said the SRA had made a "series of grave errors", and that the case was "infected from the outset with a regrettable injudicious and peremptory lack of professional assiduousness". The tribunal concluded that the proceedings "should not have been brought in the first place," and ordered the SRA to make an interim payment of £40,000.
Ahmud subsequently sought to have his defence costs paid by the SRA, on an indemnity basis. The regulator initially resisted, arguing that the SDT did not have jurisdiction to make such a costs order; but eventually conceded after Ahmud launched an appeal to the High Court.
The SRA has now agreed to pay a total of £228,000 in legal costs to Ahmud, which is understood to be the highest sum paid in costs by the regulator, for a failed prosecution.
"By bringing improper proceedings, the SRA caused me significant distress and wasted a great deal of the profession’s money," Ahmud told RollOnFriday. "Its lack of judgment was shown not just by its decision to launch baseless proceedings, but also by its offensive attempt to avoid paying any of my costs when it was forced to withdraw those proceedings."
"At no stage has the SRA shown any insight into the distress and expense which it has caused or offered any apology for bringing an improper prosecution," said Ahmud. He added that he has filed a formal complaint against the SRA and its lawyers, Capsticks.
It is unusual for the SRA to have to pay costs for bringing a prosecution. At the hearing in September 2020, the SDT denied that its costs order against the regulator would have a "chilling effect", saying, "on the contrary, it may make it more likely that prosecutions would be undertaken and pursued in a more diligent manner than this one had."
An SRA spokesman told RollOnFriday: “We always reflect on the cases we take forward so that we can learn from each one.”
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