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Finalist Interview: Sundeep Soor

Introducing the Solicitor of the Year – Private Practice Shortlist: Q & A with Sundeep Soor, Director – Head of Fraud & Tax, Cartwright King

What do you enjoy most about working as a defence lawyer in fraud, regulatory and Proceeds of Crime Act cases?

I enjoy the complexity and variety of cases I work on, every day is different. One day I can be advising a company on their dawn raid policy or an impromptu visit by HMRC, the next day I can be in the criminal courts representing individuals charged with complex financial frauds, and another day in the office advising someone who has had their bank accounts frozen.

At present I am very proud to be heading up one of the UK’s largest white collar defence teams. The management role is one that brings different challenges to being a lawyer, but one that I thoroughly enjoy.

I enjoy the range of clients I deal with; from individuals to international corporate directors /corporate entities. Whoever the client, I firmly believe in the importance of the role of determined defence solicitors in the criminal arena.

Most of all, I have always enjoyed the camaraderie between solicitors and barristers – a team effort is crucial in criminal defence litigation.

Why have you chosen to work at Cartwright King?

I have worked at Cartwright King for 16 years out the 18 years I have been qualified. When I started we had 12 staff in one office. Now we have over 200 staff in 15 offices. I have always felt a connection with the firm’s core values especially client care being paramount to being a successful lawyer. The management have always supported and recognised staff and allow people to grow into senior roles.

What is the most rewarding work you have undertaken in your career?

I have many cases that were rewarding, however in around 2004 when the POCA was in its infancy, I dealt with my one of my first cash forfeiture cases. It was complicated by the international base of the clients and the differences between the UK and more cash driven societies.

Cash was seized in the UK that was intended for use outside of the UK. Following an arrest, a long and protracted investigation and a three-day hearing, the funds were ultimately returned to the clients. We were awarded substantial costs - something which case law has made uncommon in such proceedings these days. I was new to white collar crime and this case involved quasi criminal proceedings which required me to become familiar with the civil procedure rules for the first time. The case was of additional importance to the client given his politically sensitive career.

In addition to my legal career, I enjoy being involved in voluntary and charity work. I was invited to join the Midlands Asian Lawyers Association (MALA) as a committee member six years ago. MALA is a non-profit voluntary organisation running networking and education events across the midlands with various aim one being to promote diversity and equality in the legal profession. The organisation hosts an annual ball each year which has raised over £50,000 for charitable causes.

Who do you admire the most in the legal world?

It has to be the advocates working in the criminal courts. They work tirelessly in a hostile environment, often working unsociable hours. Most work under Legal Aid funding which has been cut many times over the years. The recent Legal Aid cut for barristers was outrageous – to have 30% or more wiped off your fees for high page count and complex cases was in my view extremely unfair. However, despite this they all continue to pull up their sleeves and battle for their clients.

Is there a law in existence today that you would like to see changed or reformed?

Yes – in the Proceed of Crime Act cash seizures and the more recent bank account freezing orders in my view need to be carefully reviewed. I would like rules to be put in place to put more pressure on the applicants to be transparent from the outset. I want applicants to have to set out the basis of their case and provide particulars as to the exact suspicion that led to the seizure/freeze and release of applications made ex parte to the court. I feel there should also be a review of the funding and costs regime of these cases which can create an inequality of arms.

By way of example, I recently represented a client pro bono for many months. He received substantial compensation for an accident which he kept as cash at home. The cash was seized by HMRC. There was no funding available – fortunately the firm was happy for initial work to be undertaken on a pro bono basis whilst an application for exceptional case funding was made to the Legal Aid Agency. Not many applications are granted, but thankfully we achieved this funding a few months ago. Had this not been the case that client would have had to fight HMRC himself, not having a grasp of the English language or legal system.

In relation to civil recovery including new account freezing orders, the release of the frozen funds to pay for legal fees is possible. I would suggest the same ought to be allowed for contesting cash seizures and criminal restraint (freezing) orders.