A solicitor has been fined £7,500 for making false claims about being in possession of documents in personal injury cases – misconduct which a psychiatrist attributed to an illness that temporarily affected her ability to work.
At a hearing last month, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal approved a statement of agreed facts and proposed penalty between the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Rajwinder Kaur Bharya.
It included an undertaking that she would not practise again as a solicitor without a medical report confirming she was well enough to do so, to the regulator’s satisfaction.
The misconduct took place in June and July 2015. At the time Ms Bharya – who was born in 1978 and admitted in 2005 – was working as an associate solicitor at ERT Law (formerly Eaton Ryan & Taylor) in Birmingham.
While acting for the defendant in a fast-track employer’s liability claim, she told the claimant’s firm that she was serving four witness statements, including one from Mr IM. But she did not have a signed witness statement from him and enclosed a copy of the first page only of his draft statement.
The tribunal recorded that “the effect of the respondent sending a letter referring to the inclusion of the witness statement of Mr IM, coupled with the enclosure of the first page only of that witness statement (in draft), was to suggest… that a witness statement from Mr IM was extant but had not been enclosed due to error.”
Further, it was admitted that in the course of a subsequent telephone conversation, Ms Bharya suggested “that she had received, but mislaid, a signed witness statement from Mr IM when she knew, or should have known, that she had not.”
Separately, in public liability litigation the following month, she sent an email which claimed that she had not received a letter when she knew she had.
In the statement of facts, it was agreed that at the relevant time Ms Bharya was suffering from an illness “which was known to cause cognitive impairment and which affected her ability to realise, conclude or properly apply her mind to matters associated with her work”, meaning that “she could not be regarded as being wholly responsible for her own wrong doing”.
The consultant doctor who examined Ms Bharya described her ill health as “single episode, moderate”. The solicitor submitted to the tribunal that the “illness had been triggered by a very particular combination of personal circumstances”.
It was agreed that she had made untrue statements on three occasions over about a month “to conceal the fact that she had failed to take steps in litigation which she ought to have taken”.
But in mitigation, it was noted that the misconduct had been a brief episode in a previously unblemished career, she had shown insight and remorse, and she had been open and frank from the start.
It was agreed that while a reprimand was an insufficient sanction, a suspension or striking off was not required to protect either the public or the reputation of the profession. A fine of £7,500 was “proportionate in the circumstances”.
It was agreed that Ms Bharya would also pay costs of £4,500.