The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has struck off former Clyde & Co senior associate Rajpal Ahluwalia from the solicitor’s roll and ordered him to pay over £41,000 in costs after a series of failures starting in 2013 when he omitted to file a defence in a client’s case.
The SDT’s 8 June judgment followed a three-day hearing on 9-11 May, during which Ahluwalia admitted to failing to ensure that a defence to a claim in January 2013 was filed in good time on behalf of his client, an insurer. The omission resulted in a default judgment and £500,000 in damages and costs.
Ahluwalia, formerly an insurance litigator, also admitted that after the judgment was entered in May 2013, he failed to have the judgment set aside until March 2014. Ahluwalia also failed to notify his client of two offers of settlement made on 28 January 2013.
The former Clydes solicitor also signed a statement of truth in May 2013 on the defence, knowing that he had not seen the facts pleaded and had neither sought nor obtained the defendant’s authority to sign the defence.
Among the allegations, the SDT stated that Ahluwalia made statements in letters to a solicitor’s firm which he knew were untrue. In 2014, he signed a statement of truth on a witness statement in which he had neither sought nor obtained authority.
In 2013 and 2014, Ahluwalia had purported to send misleading emails to the insurer and to an insurance broker, in breach of SRA principles.
Clydes suspended Ahluwalia in November 2014, who resigned a week later.
‘The defendant had cavalierly allowed the matter to go from bad to worse and in doing so had displayed that he lacked integrity,’ the tribunal noted.
It was also claimed that Ahluwalia’s conduct in respect of certain allegations was dishonest. Dishonesty was not an essential ingredient of any of those allegations, however, leaving it open to the tribunal to find the allegations without making findings of dishonesty.
Ahluwalia had only been in practice for ‘three or four years’ when he started at Clydes. He worked for the firm from July 2010 to November 2014.
In October 2014, the case was transferred to another partner at Clydes, at which point Ahluwalia’s actions became known. Clydes sought legal advice on having the default judgment set aside.
The SDT found that Ahluwalia had also failed to contact his client due to sending an email to an incorrect address, ensuring the client was not updated on the progress of the case.
The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority brought the case before the SDT.
The Ahluwalia case is Clyde & Co’s second run-in with the SDT this year, after it was handed one of the largest fines ever to a law firm, in April. Clyde’s was fined £50,000 while three of its partners also received individual £10,000 fines for breaching accounting and money laundering rules.
Corporate partners Christopher Duffy, Simon Gamblin and projects partner Nick Purnell all received fines after admitting they used a client bank account as a banking facility, in violation of the SRA’s accounting rules.
Ahluwalia was represented RadcliffesLeBrasseur. He instructed 39 Essex Chambers’ Robert Lazarus. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) was represented by Penningtons Manches, who instructed Edward Levey of Fountain Court Chambers.
A Clydes spokesperson told Legal Business regard to the judgment that ‘as a senior member of the team, Rajpal was responsible for setting an example to others and, like everyone at the firm, for upholding our code of conduct and client service standards.’
The firm added that Ahluwalia ‘resigned from the firm following his suspension for the matter, which we identified and reported to the SRA.’
‘As the judgment makes clear, Rajpal had an otherwise unblemished record and this was an isolated incident, out of keeping with his previous character.’