The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has condemned as disgraceful a solicitor who made “unfounded and malicious complaints” about a well-known Costs Lawyer to the Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB).
The SDT struck off personal injury lawyer Kirna Devi Madhas for multiple rule breaches, including not informing clients of adverse costs orders – meaning they only found out when pursued for payment by defendants – and failing to notify after-the-event insurers of advice from counsel that personal injury claims may well not succeed.
Ms Madhas, admitted in 2004, was sole director of GSD Law, based in Leeds. The firm was shut down in August 2019 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, after which its name was changed to MHK (Leeds) Ltd.
Some of the charges related to a ruling in December 2017 by the Court of Appeal, in which it rejected GSD’s challenge to a ruling by District Judge Neaves, sitting at Leeds County Court, that the law firm had submitted a series of dishonest costs claims to insurer Allianz. They included claims for hourly rates in excess of the retainer rates, claims for senior lawyers’ rates claimed for the work of junior fee-earners, and claims for work that had simply not been done.
Ms Madhas admitted to the district judge presenting a forged conditional fee agreement to the court and also to making false allegations to the CLSB about the conduct of Allianz’s Costs Lawyer, Jon Williams of Williams Associates in Cardiff.
In his evidence to the SDT, Mr Williams explained how he had acted for Allianz for many years and, from 2010, noticed GSD submitting unusually high costs claims. The tribunal recorded: “When he questioned GSD Law about these unusual claims, he said that the firm would not address the issues he had raised but would simply seek to dramatically cut the costs claimed without providing reasons.”
After receiving the eighth such claim, he took his concerns to the client “and subsequently with the support of counsel’s advice it was decided that the costs claims would not be settled simply on economic grounds but to bring the suspicions to the attention of the courts”. Ms Madhas and GSD were informed Allianz would not settle their cases and they would instead have to submit formal bills and go to detailed assessment.
The SDT said: “Mr Williams said that [Ms Madhas] and GSD Law Limited dealt with matters in a haphazard way generally, including the way in which they instructed their external costs draftsman, PH, to deal with matters on their behalf. Non-qualified staff, such as [her] personal assistant and other paralegals, would be involved and at times no-one seemed to know where the papers were or were able to update Mr Williams on matters.”
The SDT found Ms Madhas guilty of other rule breaches, including failing to pay orders made by the Legal Ombudsman – both for compensation and to cover the costs orders she had not told clients about – not producing files when clients and the Solicitors Regulation Authority asked for them, and lying on her application to her professional indemnity insurer.
In addition to the rule breaches, the SDT ruled that she had been dishonest in relation to the costs schedules and false document she submitted to court and on her insurance form.
In assessing culpability, the tribunal found that Ms Madhas’s motivation was a “nakedly financial one and greed was at the heart of this matter”.
She had “wrecked lives” and it quoted a client who said she was treated like a “throw-away commodity”. The client described the impact of having a charging order made on her house over unpaid costs as “devastating”.
The SDT said: “The consequential damage to the reputation of the profession by [her] misconduct was significant as the public would trust a solicitor not to mislead them on the prospects of success of their case, and not to mislead the court or an insurer. The respondent had also made unfounded and malicious complaints against Mr Williams, a fellow professional which the tribunal found to be disgraceful and outrageous.”
Ms Madhas was not present at her disciplinary hearing and did not engage with it, putting forward no mitigation. She was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £40,000.
Mr Williams told Costs Lawyer: “The complaint to the CLSB was part of a concerted attempt to smear my name and have me removed from the litigation, along with accusing me of dishonesty, suborning witnesses, perjury and fraud and to both my client and to the court.
“It was all apiece with attempts made to blame anyone and everyone else, including her own lawyers ultimately, rather than accept and face her own dishonest conduct.”