Final Wolstenholmes partner struck off by SDT

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has struck off Nasir Ilyas, the last partner of North West firm Wolstenholmes LLP to be dealt with for professional misconduct.

Mr Ilyas was struck off on Wednesday 15 October, the third day of his hearing at the SDT in a prosecution brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). He was the fifth member of Wolstenholmes disciplined by the SDT, which heard the cases of four others together with an employee of the firm in May 2013.

Wolstenholmes was closed down by the SRA in December 2009 on the grounds of suspected dishonesty and breaches of the Solicitors Accounts Rules. The Tribunal found all eight allegations brought by the SRA proven against Mr Ilyas, who was the firm’s Chief Executive Officer.

The allegations were: causing or permitting unqualified third parties to have an inappropriate degree of control and influence over the firm (including non-solicitor Waseem Saddique who had been made bankrupt on 27 April 2009); failing to act in the best interests of clients; behaving in a way likely to diminish the trust the public placed in him and the profession; failing to act in accordance with management responsibilities; failing to maintain proper books of account; breaching Solicitors Accounts Rules 1, 19 and 22; failing to co-operate with the SRA’s investigation into the firm; and acting with a lack of integrity and dishonestly in relation to each of those allegations. It was also alleged that Mr Ilyas had dishonestly sought to mislead the SRA during its investigation.

As well as striking him off, the Tribunal ordered Mr Ilyas to pay costs of £170,000.

Evidence before the Tribunal included testimony from several clients whose conveyancing transactions had been handled by the firm and who were victims of its collapse. In one instance, a client left the proceeds of a sale with the firm to make another purchase on 22 December 2009.

On 15 December 2009, she was notified that the firm’s Birmingham office, with which she was dealing, was to close and her attempts to contact the firm were unsuccessful. She was forced to instruct other solicitors to complete the purchase using her mother’s savings. On 15 March 2010 she received compensation from the SRA of £150,063.62, which included interest.

The Tribunal commented that as it was taken through the evidence it had escalating concerns and that there was powerful and compelling evidence from victims. The firm, it said, was in chaos and there was an inexcusable array of failures.

The issue was tragic for the clients and the profession, the Tribunal added, while Mr Ilyas’ denial of responsibility was unrealistic. His account was said to be implausible and, at times, untruthful and his denial incredulous. It concluded that this was the worst case of its type the Tribunal had heard.

Gordon Ramsay, SRA Director for Legal and Enforcement, said: "The decision of the SDT brings to a close a massive investigation on behalf of a large number of clients who put their trust in Wolstenholmes, and found that trust abused. So far we have paid out more than £13 million from the Compensation Fund to victims of the actions of Mr Ilyas and his colleagues."

At the hearing in May 2013, four other members and an employee of the firm faced many of the same allegations brought against Mr Ilyas, which included two allegations of dishonesty levelled against Imran Hussain and one allegation of dishonesty levelled at Asma Qayum. They were both struck off and ordered to pay costs of £137,229.69 and £91,905.87 respectively.

Helen Murgatroyd was suspended for two years, Bilal Khawaja was suspended for one year and Bobby Shabbir was suspended for six months.

Mr Ilyas has 21 days from the SDT’s publication of the written judgment to appeal the decision.

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