A FORMER managing partner of a Bradford law firm, who is serving a prison sentence for fraud, has admitted his role in the issuing of false divorce certificates.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found that Mohammed Ayub, 56, had failed to supervise a work experience student who provided three couples with falsified decree absolutes while working at Chambers Solicitor in Grattan Road, Bradford from 2010 to 2012.

In two of the cases, the parties involved only became aware of the deception after going on to unwittingly commit bigamy.

In addition to his conviction of fraudulently claiming tens of thousands of pounds from the Legal Aid Agency, the tribunal heard that Ayub has admitted failing to supervise the conduct of divorce proceedings at Chambers, where he was sole equity partner, by a work experience student, known only in reports as ‘Anna’.

Police investigated five separate cases of suspicious decree absolutes involving Chambers between 2008 and 2012. In two cases the documents did not relate to the parties involved, and in one case, the document simply did not exist.

The tribunal report states that all three documents, which were purported to have been issued at Bradford County Court, were “therefore forgeries”.

In one case in 2010, a client was handed an envelope in the reception of Chambers offices and told their divorce was finalised.

Believing that to be genuine, the client remarried in Bangladesh the following year.After returning to UK in 2012, an application was made to to the UK Border Agency for a visa to allow their new partner to enter the country.

The application was refused as the decree absolute provided was confirmed as a fake.

The person subsequently visited Bradford County Court and was told that the decree absolute they had been given related to a different divorce. They then had to commence fresh divorce proceedings, leaving them “extremely upset”.

In another case, a client was provided with a decree absolute in 2011 and subsequently had another marriage registered in the UK in 2012.

It was only during a later family mediation meeting that the person found there had been no divorce as the reference number on their papers related to a different couple.

In the last case, a client was given what appeared to be a divorce certificate at Bradford County Court in 2012.

The following year, the client's former spouse, as they believed that person to be, applied for contact arrangements to be made for their son.

It was only during a hearing at the same court in 2014 that the parties were informed that their decree absolute was forged, causing them to have to renew divorce proceedings.

The three couples were all clients of Chambers and were dealt with by Miriam Yousaf, 36, then an assistant solicitor at the firm.

The report to the tribunal states that Anna came to Chambers in 2009 to gain experience and was an unpaid member of staff for about three or four years.

In a statement about Anna made to police, Ms Yousaf said: “She would come in on and off, sometimes regularly like clockwork once a week and other times she wouldn’t be in for weeks/months at a time.

"She told me she was studying law at one of the Leeds universities and so couldn’t come in during the day but could only come in to assist on evenings or weekends.

"I don’t know for a fact that she was actually studying anywhere and it may have been a cover for her in attempting to gain access to a solicitor’s office.”

Ms Yousaf continued: “I believe that a junior member of staff, instead of applying to the court for a decree absolute may have created fraudulent decree absolute documents and passed them off as genuine documents from the court, duping me also.

“I can only speculate that if fraudulent decree absolute documents have passed through my hands to clients then I too have been duped as to their authenticity by Anna, who was delegated the task of setting up files and drafting the divorce petitions.”

The report stated that Anna was allowed to take on divorce files and had access to the firm’s case management system.

It read: “No records relating to Anna have been kept which made it impossible to locate the person for enquiries to be made of her, especially as no-one can remember her surname.”

Ms Yousaf said: “I cannot remember Anna’s surname. She was Eastern European, from Czech Republic I think. She had an Eastern European accent.”

The report stated that after Anna stopped working at the firm, it was discovered that the files she had worked on were “incomplete and had paperwork missing”.

The tribunal heard that it was not known whether Chambers had any record of Anna’s personal details, and that police had never been able to trace her.

According to the report, Ms Yousaf now holds an unconditional practising certificate and is a partner at Adamson Solicitors in Birmingham.

She was not accused of being involved in the production of the false documents, but admitted the case against her relating to a lack of supervision.

The report said she had offered her “sincere apologies” to the profession and the three clients who had fallen victim to the deception, saying that was “deeply ashamed” to appear before the tribunal, describing it as the “worst day of her professional life.”

She was fined £15,000, and ordered to pay costs of £5,361.40.

Ayub, who was ordered to pay £4,139.34 in costs, admitted failing to supervise staff involved in divorce proceedings, and a failure to deal with the complaints relating to the cases involved.

The tribunal report stated: “The respondent admitted the allegations against him in their entirety.

“Mr Ayub accepts that the seriousness of his admitted misconduct is such that neither a reprimand, a fine, or being suspended from practice would be a sufficient sanction.

“Mr Ayub accepts that the protection of the public and the protection of the reputation of the profession justifies him being struck off the Roll of Solicitors.”

Ayub was jailed for three years and six months in June this year after being found guilty of conspiring with his brother Mohammed Riaz, 50, and solicitor Neil Frew, 49, to form a sham company, known as Legal Support Services, to fraudulently claim tens of thousands of pounds of interpreter’s fees from the Legal Aid Agency, a Government body that administers the legal aid system.

Ayub, of Aireville Drive, Shipley, was sentenced based on a fraud of £160,873 relating to fees claimed for immigration and asylum contract work by Chambers between September 2010 and October 2014.

After the three were convicted in November last year following a trial at Sheffield Crown Court, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced the following month that Chambers Solicitors’ offices in Bradford and Wakefield had been closed with immediate effect and that Ayub’s practising certificate had been suspended.

Riaz, of Southfield Square, Manningham, was jailed for two years and nine months. Frew, of Hoyle Court, Baildon, received a suspended two year jail sentence.

For his role in defrauding the LAA, Frew was also struck off the Roll of Solicitors and ordered to pay £846.84 costs.