In a recent regulatory settlement agreement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Amarjit Singh Bhachu, a qualified solicitor since 1991, has been fined £10,402 for misconduct involving accepting payments from a client directly into his personal bank account while working at West London firm Waterfords.

London Solicitor Fined: Client Agreement and Missing Documentation

The solicitor admitted his wrongdoing, agreeing to the fine and also accepting the responsibility of covering £4,000 in associated costs. Mr Bhachu’s actions came to light during his representation of a client known as ‘Ms T’ in her divorce proceedings. The agreed basis of charge stipulated that Ms T would pay £14,732, which included £5,773 in disbursements, directly into Mr Bhachu’s bank account between May 2018 and March 2020.

Ms T revealed that although she had instructed Mr Bhachu in his official capacity at the firm, she never received an engagement letter or any bills from Waterfords.

Fee Discrepancies and Unconventional Advice

Matters escalated in March 2020 when Mr Bhachu informed Ms T that his fees for the upcoming final hearing in August would amount to £12,000. He requested an immediate payment of half the amount, with the balance due 14 days before the scheduled hearing.

In a surprising turn of events in July 2020, Mr Bhachu instructed Ms T to communicate directly with her ex-husband, who was acting as a litigant-in-person. He advised her to inform the court that she was representing herself and asserted that he would withdraw from the case. Simultaneously, he notified the husband that he had no instructions and would not engage in any further correspondence.

Payment Dispute and Firm Intervention

Adding to the complexity, Mr Bhachu informed Ms T that, as she had not made the requested payment four months earlier, there was no existing retainer between them. Following Ms T’s complaint to Waterfords, the firm officially adopted her as a client, reimbursed the payments made to Mr Bhachu, and offered compensation. In return, the firm withdrew from the court record.

Consequently, Mr Bhachu resigned from Waterfords, leading to the adjournment of the final hearing as Ms T sought alternative representation.

The SRA deemed his admitted misconduct as “serious” and indicative of a lack of integrity, emphasising that solicitors should not provide personal bank details for client payments. The regulatory authority acknowledged that this was an isolated incident in Mr Bhachu’s otherwise clear regulatory history and noted his full cooperation during the investigation.

In mitigation, Mr Bhachu admitted to the error in receiving payments into his personal account and acknowledged that his actions fell below the expected standards.

The SRA deemed a fine of £10,402 as the appropriate outcome, considering the seriousness of the conduct but not warranting sanction by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal as necessary or proportionate.

Authorities Continue to Clamp Down on Regulation Failings 

The SRA continue to assert their authority on legal professionals who fail to adhere to the regulations in place. As we’ve seen there are fine lines between compliant behaviour and going astray from the set regulations and many legal professionals have found out the hard way what can happen. Fines have been handed out, careers have been taken and even a prison sentence depending on the severity of the regulation breaks.

The set framework from the SRA is clear and while it can be subtle changes to these regulations, it is essential all legal professionals and law firms remain alert to this and ensure they are practicing compliantly. This case offers a clear reminder to all legal professionals that the SRA will act accordingly when regulations are broken. Its important firms and legal professionals are solely focusing on practicing compliant and building strong relationships with their clients as trust is a critical element.