THE former SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh “completely failed” to consider her responsibilities as a solicitor in the case which saw her fined for professional misconduct, a tribunal has concluded.

Publishing its 54-page findings in full, the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said Ms Ahmed-Sheikh’s lack of investigation and inquiry into “basic facts” had been a “significant failing”.

It also said she must “bear particular criticism” for non-compliance with specific financial duties while a lawyer.

READ MORE: Former SNP MP admits error over finances at law firm 

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh and fellow solicitor Alan Mickel were each fined £3000 in January for professional misconduct over the handling of a trust at former Glasgow law firm Hamilton Burns.

The tribunal said both showed “disregard for the rules” when partners in the firm, before Ms Ahmed-Sheikh’s election as a Perthshire MP in 2015.

However it also said there was no suggestion of dishonesty or lack of integrity, and accepted the two lawyers had a “genuinely held” but mistaken belief about the status of a trust Mr Mickel set up for his sister in May 2012.

Mr Mickel said he believed the £147,000 trust, for which he and Ms Ahmed-Sheikh were trustees, was a “private, family matter”, when in legal terms it was a client of the firm.

Hamilton Burns, which went into administration in 2017 owing more than £500,000, borrowed repeatedly from the trust over several years to stay afloat, in an “inherent conflict” of interest.

It also failed to keep adequate records of the transactions when Ms Ahmed-Sheikh was the designated Cashroom Manager in charge of ledgers.

The case was brought against the pair by the Law Society of Scotland after an inspection in late 2015 raised concerns about inaccurate recordkeeping and borrowing.

HeraldScotland:

The tribunal was an apparent factor in the SNP last week rejecting Ms Ahmed-Sheikh’s application to stand as a candidate in the European elections.

After losing her seat in 2017, she now works with former First Minister Alex Salmond on his TV show on RT.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon to give indyref2 update on Wednesday 

In its full finding, the tribunal set out why it found Mr Mickel, 50, and Ms Ahmed-Sheikh, 48, guilty of professional misconduct rather than the lesser sin of unsatisfactory professional conduct.

It said both ought to have understood the trust was a client of their firm, and made “the necessary enquiries to satisfy themselves with regard to compliance”.

It said: “[Mr Mickel] was aware that trust money was being loaned. Some of it went to him... It was a matter of admission that he attended meetings at which the loans were discussed, agreed and authorised.

“[Ms Ahmed-Sheikh] claimed to have accepted [his] assertion that the monies borrowed by the practice belonged to him.

“In the tribunal’s view she should certainly have appreciated the true position when she had been informed of the background to the establishment of the trust and was a trustee of the client trust.

“She failed to consider the matter even when the firm started borrowing from the trust. She must have known this borrowing was essential to the viability of the firm. This is particularly serious in light of her position of Cashroom Manager. The lack of investigation and inquiry into these most basic facts is a significant failing.” It said the pair “completely failed to apply their minds to the status of the funds and the nature of the relationship of the Trust with the firm.

“It would have been obvious from the firm balance sheet that the firm was being supported by loans from the Trust. The Respondents were Trustees of that Trust.

The tribunal went on: “In financially difficult times, when the practice unit [the firm] was living day-to-day, and the loans were required to pay staff salaries, all partners and the Cashroom Manager in particular should have been examining the accounts of both the trust and the practice unit very carefully, if for no other reason that to satisfy themselves that loans could continue to be made if the practice unit’s finances did not improve.

“To continue for so many years without making any investigation into the trust’s status was a serious and reprehensible departure from the standards of competent and reputable solicitors.

“It appeared to the tribunal that they had completely failed to consider the matter and their responsibilities.”

The tribunal said the financial records for the trust were “in such disarray” it was impossible to tell if it even had a positive balance in the relevant period, though all loans have since been repaid.

The Tribunal also rejected the solicitors’ argument that they had not breached any rules about borrowing because the trust was “in the business of lending money”.

It said: “There was no evidence that the Trust was ‘in business’, for example tax liability or registration.. the only loans the Trust made were to the practice unit [the firm].

“The practice unit borrowed money from the Trust. The loans were essential for the viability of the firm. The Respondents were both Trustees of the Trust and managers of the practice unit. There was an inherent conflict in lending and borrowing in these circumstances.”

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh said: “The findings of the Tribunal reflect what was decided and announced at the hearing in January. It is now accepted on all sides that in the words of the Tribunal there ‘was no suggestion of dishonesty or lack of integrity’.

“The case turned on whether I should have realised that the family Trust in the name of my senior partner Mr Mickel, to which there was no financial loss, should be treated as a client of the firm. The Law Society accepted my view at the time was ‘wrongly held but genuine’.

“I, in turn, accept that my view was mistaken in the terms of the Law Society Rules. Thus the Tribunal censured and fined me and I have accepted that decision. I have neither been struck off or suspended nor have I been accused of any dishonesty or lack of integrity.”

Mr Mickel has been working in England since leaving Hamilton Burns in December 2015.

He told the Herald: "I had always maintained that the Trust wasn’t a client of the firm and accordingly we had treated the matter on a execution only basis . 

"When the issue was raised by the Law Society inspectors, and despite two previous law society inspections of the trust finding no difficulty with the loan arrangements, I immediately obtained advice from Senior Counsel on the matter and was advised that the Trust might be viewed as a client of the firm, and that the firm was accordingly potentially compromised.  I accordingly found myself with no option but to resign from the firm I had founded, that same day.

"I had also appointed Ms Ahmed Sheikh as the cashroom partner, and as part of that role I had assumed that the delegated duties entailed the maintenance  of accurate cashroom ledgers.

"It regrettably appears in hindsight that I was wrong on both counts and I am grateful to the Tribunal for the time and trouble they have taken in coming to the decision they did.

"There was no lost to the Trust fund and moreover there was a formal finding that there was no dishonesty or impropriety in my actings regarding this matter. 

"It appears that I am the only party to have financially lost from this entire affair and I and my immediate family, the beneficiary and no doubt Ms Ahmed Sheikh, are all very  much looking forward to putting this unfortunate episode behind us and moving on with our lives."