Conveyancing solictor unable to account for client funds struck off
A conveyancing solicitor who was unable to explain the disappearance of thousands of pounds worth of clients’ money has been struck off.
A principal at conveyancing firm Temple Law, Roland Cassam had received client money which had been destined to redeem mortgages.
However, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that the funds were never transferred, meaning a six-figure amount was left unaccounted for by Cassam and his firm.
A veteran solicitor of 40-years, Cassam told the tribunal that he had no intention to permanently deprive anyone of money. However, the tribunal stated that his motivation to failing to maintain proper accounts and misuse client funds was unclear.
According to the recently published judgement, the tribunal stated that there may have been a loss of control on Cassam’s part. They said he could have ‘borrowed’ the money and used it for inappropriate purposes; they suggested that this may have gone towards filling gaps in the client account.
Although his motivations were unclear, the judgement highlighted that the use of the money was intentional.
It read: ‘This was forbidden; client money was sacrosanct and should only be used for the client’s purposes. Whilst the general failure to maintain accounts may have been unplanned, the specific transfer and use of client money was clearly planned rather than spontaneous.’
In 2015, an investigation into Temple Law revealed that the last bank account reconciliation offered was from 2013, despite practice rules stating that these need to occur every five weeks.
Two conveyancing files were also discovered during the investigation, indicating where money had entered the client account which then seemed to disappear.
From one client the firm had received £127,000 in sales proceeds and £21,165 in deposit monies from another. This occurred towards the end of 2014. However, on 31 December 2014, the total held in the bank for both of these matters stood at just £784.
Failure to keep proper records was one of several accounting breaches that Cassam and his partner Peter Rhidan Lewis admitted to. In 2010, they had been reprimanded following five accounts rules breaches.
It was heard during the trial that Lewis had stopped fee earning in 2013 and despite being the compliance officer, had been distracted by other business interests.
He was fined £3,000, with a costs order of £3,000 having failed to discharge his duties.
In regard to Cassam, the tribunal found that his conduct had been dishonest, and he had known it to be dishonest. It concluded that his culpability for the serious misconduct was at the highest level and it was significant with regard to the other failures to comply with the Accounts Rules and regulatory requirements.
The tribunal also stated that his conduct was aggravated by the harm caused to certain clients as well as his dishonesty.
Cassam was ordered to pay £15,575 in costs in addition to being struck off.