Disciplinary tribunal hears top Nottingham lawyer describe himself as ‘fairy godmother’
Ash Bhatia, the top Nottingham lawyer, has described himself as a “fairy godmother” to the paralegal he eventually sacked.
Giving evidence to a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal yesterday (March 28), Bhatia, the boss of law firm Bhatia Best, denied discriminating against Elaina Brown, who was pregnant at the time. He added that “we accommodated her with absolutely everything”.
Bhatia denies the two allegations brought against him by the Tribunal; that he discriminated against Miss Brown by treating her unfavourably in relation to pregnancy or maternity, and that he failed to notify the Solicitors Regulations Authority (SRA) of a 2019 employment tribunal judgement.
The SRA has now brought the disciplinary tribunal against Bhatia.
The Tribunal kicked off on Monday, with the disciplinary panel hearing details of how Brown’s sacking came about – and subsequent Employment Tribunal.
Brown had been a paralegal in the family law department between July 2016 and August 2017. The tribunal heard that she found out she was pregnant with her fifth child and that she told the company the next month
The 2019 tribunal also heard that Brown had a difficult pregnancy and her health deteriorated, meaning she had absences from work.
Brown had a check-up at the hospital on 7 August 2017 which overran, meaning Matthew Best, a director of Bhatia Best, had to take a client meeting on her behalf. This led to an email exchange later that day in which Bhatia voice concerns that the pregnancy might impact on her reliability at work.
The day after, Bhatia and Brown had a meeting. This was followed by Bhatia calling the Deparment for Work and Pensions’ fraud hotline to clarify whether his employee was using her married name or the name of ‘Brown’ with regards to credits she was claiming.
In a letter to Brown, Bhatia Best said she had been dismissed for “welfare benefit fraud”.
Bhatia added: “You have made a false declaration and/or failed to report a change in your circumstances.” He said this was a criminal offence.
However, the judge said the 2019 tribunal didn’t find Bhatia’s belief that Brown had committed a criminal offence was credible.
The judge added that as an experienced solicitor in criminal law “he would be well aware that tax credits are not dealt with by the DWP but by HMRC. He must therefore have realised that he was speaking to the wrong administrative body”.
In his defence, Bhatia said: “In the absence of an explanation from Elaina I believed the DWP. The tribunal said I was hasty and should have believed Elaina.”
On Monday, Bhatia’s legal representative said that he was “keen to get the investigation finished” and that it was “him and his side who are interested in getting to the truth”. He added that the proceedings had come at “massive expense” to Bhatia and it would it be “almost more than he could bear” if the tribunal was adjourned again.
The disciplinary tribunal will continue until Friday.