£50,000 fine for ‘reckless’ Blackburn solicitor

A Blackburn-based lawyer who was referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over allegations relating to £1.6m of investment fund cash has been fined £50,000.

The hearing ruled that Saimina-Jan Virmani, who founded Joseph Frasier Solicitors, based at The Beehive, had been “reckless” and “had lacked integrity”.

It had been alleged that the solicitor used £1.6m received from the investment fund “in circumstances in which it was improper to do so”.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority also claimed that Ms Virmani behaved in a way that “did not maintain the trust the public placed in her”.

It also told the hearing that she had “failed to run the firm effectively in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles.”

The tribunal heard that she had used part of the money to pay off a £68,000 debt to the taxman, fund general overheads of the firm and pay for a new case management system.

The allegations related to the Axiom Fund, which the tribunal heard was set up to provide funding to UK law firms to conduct legal cases. Investors had put more than £100m into the fund by 2012.

Ms Virmani’s defence case statement said: “The Respondent’s essential case is that she is a thoroughly decent and hard-working solicitor, who borrowed money from Axiom in the belief that this was an ordinary and bona fide financing operation for the firm.”

It had been alleged that she knew or was reckless to the fact the firm had not complied with the terms of a Litigation Funding Agreement.

The tribunal was also told that a draft report in June 2012 of an audit carried out on the legal practice revealed the practice was loss-making, had net liabilities in excess of £160,000 and was insolvent.

The tribunal found that Ms Virmani had been “reckless” but her actions had not been deliberate.

Considering its sanctions, it said that it had taken into account that at the time of the misconduct she had been relatively young and inexperienced and dishonesty had not been found. It added that she had “learnt a salutary lesson”.

As well as the fine the tribunal also ordered the 35-year-old solicitor, a former Red Rose Awards winner, to pay £60,000 costs.

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