The senior partner of a personal injury firm who bungled 37 noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) claims and lied to the court has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT said that, in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the claims from being struck out, Safina Bibi Shah had made false or misleading statements to the court, “reflecting a lack of integrity and in one instance dishonesty”.
The tribunal found that there had been “systemic failures” at personal injury firm Isaac Abrahams, based in Bury and Oldham, and Ms Shah’s motivation had been to “cover up her own mistakes”.
The SDT said that an “effective style of management on her part” might have avoided the strike-outs, which resulted in costs for her clients, including “in at least one case” a substantial adverse costs order.
The tribunal noted Ms Shah’s “personal difficulties” but the link between those difficulties and her misconduct had not been proved. “There was already a chaotic regime in place before the difficulties set in.”
Shamilla Hanif, a solicitor at Isaac Abrahams, was also found to have been dishonest and struck off. Ms Shah was ordered to pay £50,000 costs and Ms Hanif £25,000.
Ms Shah was born in 1974, and admitted in 2005. She was based at the head office of Isaac Abrahams in Bury, Greater Manchester, and combined the roles of senior partner and COLP.
Ms Hanif, born in 1982 and admitted in 2011, was employed by Ms Shah as a solicitor between March 2015 and August 2016.
Ms Shah attended hearing loss clinics in 2011 and 2012 to identify individuals who had suffered NIHL as a result of negligence. In 2015, 65 of the firm’s NIHL claims were transferred to Bolton County Court, to be case managed by District Judge Swindley.
The SDT said the claims were transferred because a number of “procedural issues” had arisen, and in each case Isaac Abrahams had applied for time extensions for service of the claim, medical evidence and schedules of damages.
As well as striking out many of the claims, DJ Swindley strongly criticised the firm in his judgment handed down in May 2016. He said it was “clear that the fee-earners were not being supervised and monitored” and the practices of the firm were “entirely unacceptable”.
The judge said he was “sure” that one set of claims, which the firm said were posted on the last day for service, were in fact posted after the deadline. In 35 cases, he said medical evidence had not been obtained after three years, but the claims were issued anyway.
DJ Swindley described conduct of the files by Isaac Abrahams as “generally lamentable” and said there was “no effective management” of cases.
Ms Shah faced a long list of allegations at the SDT, including five charges of dishonesty. Only one of these was found to be proved, that she made a misleading statement in a letter to the court in May 2015, blaming an expert for failing to provide a report in time.
A further allegation, that she had made false statements to the court in an application in March 2015, was rejected.
However, Ms Shah, despite her denials, was found to have failed to provide a proper standard of service or act in the best interests of clients, resulting in 37 NIHL claims being struck out.
She was also found to have made a number of misleading statements to defence lawyers, in particulars of claim, statements of truth and in a witness statement.
Further, in each case she failed to uphold the rule of law and proper administration of justice, and although she denied it, to have acted with a lack of integrity.
She admitted failing to ensure that effective systems of management and supervision were in place between 2013 and 2016.
Ms Hanif, in contrast, admitted all the allegations against her, including misleading her opponent in litigation, her client and the court. Along with failure to uphold the rule of law and lack of integrity, she admitted three allegations of dishonesty.
The SDT said Ms Hanif’s motivation had been to “protect [Ms Shah] as well as herself”.
The tribunal said it was satisfied that Ms Hanif, who admitted all the allegations, had “genuine insight into her misconduct”.
Also, her admissions, her more junior status and the fact Ms Shah contested many of the allegations against her, were reflected in the apportionment of costs.