The U.K. Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has suspended a solicitor for 12 months, in a reversal of an earlier decision that was criticised by the High Court.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority had previously accused Nabeel Sheikh, founder and former senior partner of the now-defunct firm Neumans, of submitting a fraudulent bill of costs totalling nearly £3 million in relation to work done on a lengthy criminal case.
However, in January 2020 an SDT panel chose not to prosecute Sheikh, ruling there was “no case to answer”, and instead handed the SRA a £63,000 costs order to cover the accused’s legal fees. The SRA later successfully challenged the SDT’s ruling in the High Court, with Lord Justice William Davis calling the SDT’s decision “plainly wrong”. The matter was then handed back to the SDT.
A new hearing took place in October and November 2021 overseen by a refreshed SDT panel.
In a sharp reversal of the previous panel’s findings, according to the latest decision, the new panel has suspended Sheikh for 12 months and ordered him to pay the SRA’s legal costs of £41,000.
It concluded that Sheikh’s actions “played to harmful stereotypes of lawyers seeking to maximise payments from the public purse”. The new panel also found that harm had been caused “to the reputation of the profession and public trust in it”, and that Sheikh had shown a lack of integrity and “recklessness as to the possibility of misleading the court”.
However, there were no findings as to fraud or dishonesty.
The full ruling was only published this week, despite the tribunal concluding on November 1. In a statement, the SDT explained: “The time taken for this process varies but the Tribunal endeavours to issue judgments as quickly as possible.”
However, the SDT made no additional comment as to its reversal of the previous decision.
Several attempts were made to reach Sheikh for comment.