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Gloucestershire Business News

Man caught pretending to be a solicitor fined £15,000

A 48-year-old man who appeared before a district judge at Coventry County Court pretending to be a solicitor - and won his case - has been handed a suspended prison term and will have to pay costs of £15,000.

Naveed Rai, 48, now of Lickey Road, Bromsgrove, but formerly of High Street, Henley-In-Arden, and Plato Close, Tachbrook Park, Leamington Spa, pleaded guilty at Gloucester Crown Court to three charges brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority following the incident on May 2, 2018.

Prosecutor Catherine Lloyd said it was the second time Rai had posed as a solicitor - he had received a prison sentence in 2013 after being found guilty by a jury of a similar offence committed in 2010.

On this occasion, Rai acted as a solicitor while unqualified by attending the Coventry County Court on May 2, 2018, on behalf of a man called Fayaz Mohammed and arguing for a debt recovery order to be set aside. He told the court during the hearing that he could accept the service of legal documents.

The prosecutor said: "Rai had previously set up a company 'Legal Service Ltd' in 2014 and he was registered as a director. The company is still registered today."

"Rai is also alleged to have been involved in another incident on September 27, 2017, in front of District Judge Gilmore in which a discussion was had on what evidence could be presented to the court. When Rai was challenged he said he was not a solicitor but was acting as a 'McKenzie's Friend' for the defendant.

(McKenzie's Friends are people, often friends and family members but sometimes fee-charging professionals, who are allowed to accompany litigants to court to provide moral support in court but not to speak on their behalf.)

"The district judge told Rai that the role he was conducting was not that of a McKenzie's Friend and therefore he could not speak for the person at that hearing, he could only advise.

"However, the charges surrounding that incident are not being proceeded with and are to lie on file.

"On May 2, 2018, Rai was in court as part of a debt recovery action and the solicitor for the complainant stated that she didn't expect Mr Mohammed to have any representation.

"Shortly before the hearing at Coventry County Court, Rai told the lawyer that he was the solicitor representing Mr Mohammed in these proceedings.

"The hearing commenced in front of District Judge Jones and throughout the hearing Rai maintained he was a solicitor.

"He was introduced as such when the judge said to Rai 'I believe this is your client's application to set aside judgement' with Rai responding, 'Yes'.

"On numerous occasions throughout the hearing Rai referenced Mr Mohammed as his client.

"At the close of the hearing, there was a discussion about the service of documents to Rai and he told the court he would provide details of where to send the material. The judgement was subsequently set aside.

"There is no evidence that Rai was paid directly by Mr Mohammed. However, at the close of the hearing Rai made an amended claim application for £750 plus VAT for his services from the court.

"The district judge then quizzed Rai about which firm he was representing, and he responded by saying 'The Legal Service's Group.' The hearing was then adjourned.

"Suspicions about Rai's actions were raised by the officials in court and an investigation was undertaken. It was discovered that Rai was not listed as a qualified solicitor and the situation was reported to the relevant body.

"At the follow up hearing on April 30, 2019, two officers from the Solicitors Regulation Authority attended court and informed Rai that he was under investigation. He was interviewed during which he presented a six-page report in which he stated his company was involved in legal services surrounding insurance car claims and that he was only acting for Mr Mohammed as a family friend.

"He also stated that he had never held himself out as a solicitor."

Judge Ian Lawrie QC observed: "In light of Rai's previous conviction, this is an exercise in dishonesty. I appreciate that the charges Rai has admitted do not reflect dishonesty but that is simply a matter of fact."

Ms Lloyd continued: "This is a very rare set of offences, for which there are no guidelines. The delay in the case being heard, aside from the pandemic, was caused by others matters being investigated before Rai could be charged and the judicial process could begin."

Dominic Thomas, defending said: "The only real mitigation I can put forward is that the inevitable custodial sentence could be suspended for the benefit of his family and his new business of commercial car leasing, which employs several people."

Judge Lawrie pointed out that the pre-sentence report caused him some concern because it appeared that "Rai has not confronted his offending".

Mr Thomas responded: "I delivered a rocket to Rai when I read that in the report. It is now four years on since his offending and he has got on with his life and has not attracted the attention of the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the police in the meantime.

"He is a carer for his elderly parents.

"He does accept that he misled the district judge in Coventry, and he insists there was no malicious intent. He did it because he knew Mr Mohammed did not have the finances available to him to afford legal representation and was in poor health.

"There is no suggestion that his company, Legal Services Ltd, offered the services provided by solicitors. This company is no longer active and will be dissolved at the conclusion of these proceedings."

Judge Lawrie interjected: "He has not learnt his lesson. He was convicted of committing a fraudulent act and jailed, yet he continued to commit another dishonest act."

The charges Rai admitted were that on May 2, 2018, he acted as a solicitor while unqualified; he carried on a reserved legal activity when not qualified or entitled to do so by holding an audience with District Judge Jones at Coventry County Court; and that he wilfully pretended to be entitled to carry on a reserved legal activity in that he accepted services by means of an amended claim form when he was not entitled to do so.

In sentencing Rai, Judge Lawrie said: "Your case had caused me some considerable concern. The intrinsic integrity of the justice system should be respected so that every participant within that process is confident that the truth is being told at all times.

"You betrayed that sense of integrity by conducting yourself in an exercise of dishonesty. You need to appreciate that the system doesn't tolerate this sort of behaviour.

"You deserve to go to prison. You merit custody as the threshold has been crossed. You are reluctant to learn lessons. You are a fraudster.

"However, your advocate has persuaded me that I should suspend your 15 month prison sentence for two years because of the effect your incarceration would have on others, even though I don't believe there is a real prospect of rehabilitation.

"Intrinsically, I think you are a dishonest man which is why I am ordering that all other charges from September 2017, that were not continued with today will lie on file, meaning they could be resurrected if you commit another fraudulent act.

"You will pay £15,000 within six months as a contribution towards court costs and undertake 200 hours of unpaid work."

The judge also ordered Rai to pay a victim surcharge of £140.

"You avoided custody by the narrowest of margins," concluded Judge Lawrie.

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