In the final week of February, The Bolton News reported that Kamran Akram, the former Principal Director of disgraced claimant firm, Asons Solicitors Limited, had agreed to the terms of a court order, prohibiting him from obtaining a licence to practice. In a separate action, Mr. Akram has also been disqualified from becoming a company director for 7-years.[i]
Asons was intervened by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in March 2017, to protect the interests of existing and former clients. In the same month, the business was shut down by the Regulator and Mr. Akram’s practising certificate was automatically suspended.
Disciplinary action was subsequently started, alleging that Mr. Akram had:
- ‘Caused or permitted the presentation of applications for costs in PI claims which systematically misrepresented the grade of relevant fee-earners so as to increase the level of recoverable costs [Allegation 1.1].
- Caused or permitted the presentation of applications for costs in PI claims which were inflated by the inclusion of costs for "file reviews" including in relation to the bills of costs and supervision of the claimants' retainers purportedly carried out by the Respondent or another legally qualified fee earner when no such review of the file had taken place and no supervision had occurred [Allegation 1.2].
- Caused or permitted the presentation of claims for special damages which contained particulars that were false in that the event, loss or treatment alleged to have given rise to the special damages claim had not occurred or did not exist [Allegation 1.3].
- Caused or permitted Asons to act in circumstances giving rise to a conflict of interest between Asons and its clients, specifically in relation to the resolution of personal injury claims where Asons' applications for costs and/or special damages were the subject of challenge by the Defendant insurers (and/or their representatives) [Allegation 1.4].
- Provided misleading information to the court and/or the SRA in relation to the false and inflated claims for costs and special damages presented on behalf of clients of Asons [Allegation 1.5].
- Caused or permitted payments of prohibited referral fees [Allegation 1.6].
- Acted as a proxy for Imran Akram, who was not on the Roll of solicitors but who had de facto management and control of Asons [Allegation 1.7].
- Failed to run his practice or carry out his role as sole principal, COLP [Compliance Officer for Legal Practice] and COFA [Compliance Officer for Financial Administration] of Asons effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles [Allegation 1.8]’.
While Mr. Akram was cleared of all ‘dishonesty’ charges, he was deemed to have ‘lacked integrity’ and behaved ‘recklessly’, often putting his own interests and the interests of the firm above the interests of Asons’ clients (by ushering discontinuances via ‘self-serving’ letters when costs/damages were disputed). He had breached his duty of trust as Principal, a position which yielded direct control and responsibility of the business.
‘Significant’ harm caused to the reputation of the profession, coupled with ‘high levels’ of culpability, meant that the only appropriate sanction was an ‘immediate suspension’.
Although the absence of ‘dishonesty’ precluded the enforcement of an ‘indefinite suspension’, the shortest justifiable term was 18-months, within which Mr. Akram was expected to ‘properly reflect on his conduct and to demonstrate to the profession and the public how seriously the Tribunal took these breaches’.
He was also ordered to pay costs, in the sum of £115,000.
At the time, the fact that Mr. Akram’s misconduct (comprising breaches of the SRA Principles 2011 and the SRA Code of Conduct) had not involved the misappropriation of client funds resulted in no additional restrictions being imposed by the Tribunal. Instead, this responsibility was deferred to the SRA, once the period of suspension had ceased.
However, this was not the end of the road for Asons’ sole shareholder.
Recently, the High Court in Manchester was due to deal with committal proceedings, advanced by motor insurer, Esure.
The test case regarded a fraudulent road-traffic accident (RTA) claim, brought by Asons in 2015, which adduced false documentation and included £6,000 of fabricated pleadings (in relation to medical treatment).
Having listened to the evidence presented at court, Mr. Akram acknowledged that the consequence of his immersion in claims fraud was likely to be severe (potentially a custodial sentence) and was prompted to compromise his position, prior to the handing down of judgment. Under the terms of the agreement reached, it was arranged that Mr. Akram would not ‘apply for a certificate to practice as a solicitor without first obtaining permission from the High Court’.
With Mr. Akram having been made bankrupt, in March 2019, following a petition filed by CLB Insurance,[ii] the insurer’s legal costs, totalling £250,000, will be paid by his family.
Praising the result of this action, Andy Nixon, Fraud Operations Manager at Esure, stated:
‘This is a great outcome and reflects our determination and commitment in tackling insurance fraud. This was an important result for Esure and the wider industry as it demonstrates the action that will be taken when professional enablers are found to be aiding fraudulent activity’.
Mr. Akram’s removal from the industry will simmer ‘concerns’ that more ‘fabricated and exaggerated claims’ could be generated if he was not struck off from the roll.
Elsewhere, Mr. Akram’s failure to ‘exert adequate control over the financial affairs of Asons’, between late 2013 and early 2015, has caused The Insolvency Service to disqualify him from holding a company director role for 7-years, commencing 21 February 2020. On the Service’s website, his sanctionable conduct was that:
‘Asons issued 159 bills of costs where the amount claimed was either misrepresented or inflated, resulting in Asons insurers having to pay £838,854’.[iii]
[i] Joanne Rowe, ‘Asons law firm boss cannot work as a solicitor and family must pay £250,000’ (27 February 2020 The Bolton News) <https://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/18263292.asons-law-firm-boss-cannot-work-solicitor-family-must-pay-250-000/> accessed 28 February 2020.
[ii] Neil Rose, ‘Asons creditors owed £28m as liquidators bring claim over sale’ (17 June 2019 Legal Futures) https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/asons-creditors-owed-28m-as-liquidators-bring-claim-over-sale> accessed 2 March 2020.
[iii] ‘Case details for Kamran Akram’ (31 February 2020 The Insolvency Service) <https://www.insolvencydirect.bis.gov.uk/IESdatabase/viewdisqualdetail.asp?courtnumber=06904707> accessed 2 March 2020.