April/May 2021

Anyone can be accused of a crime…

GM Business Connect recently caught up with Tariq Hussain, Managing Director at Petherbridge Bassra Solicitors Ltd, part of the Petherbridge Bassra Group. The national firm are headquartered in Bradford and offer multiple specialist law services across the North.

Please tell us about your role at Petherbridge Bassra Solicitors, also can you describe what your firm covers?
“My role is Managing Director of the  Petherbridge Bassra Group, who are a multi-disciplinary practice specialising in business crime but offering a wide range of services such as personal injury, civil litigation, family law, wills, probate and conveyancing. I’ve been with the firm since 1993, which has been growing steadily throughout that time. We had a significant merger in 2008, bringing together my business Petherbridge Hussain, where I was a Partner, with Bassra Solicitors. We now specialise in many diverse areas of law, and as well as running the business as Managing Director, I have particular oversight of the commercial clients, with a particular emphasis on criminal and regulatory matters.”

Can you tell us more about your particular area of expertise?
“Within criminal law there are a wide variety of types of crimes that occur. In addition to the obvious crimes that exist though, we have a specialist arm called Opus Law. Here we deal with matters of serious fraud and the more serious and complex business crimes – which include regulatory offences. So, for example, a company could breach Health & Safety regulations, and some of those breaches often result in criminal offences. An example of this is when a regulatory breach results in a corporate manslaughter charge. Also as a direct result of the pandemic we are seeing a substantial increase in allegations concerning false claims for grants and furlough support. Many businesses may unwittingly fall foul in this situation and be accused of criminal intent due to misunderstanding the process for claiming the grants. This risk includes any business that has claimed such a grant. That’s where we come in. Using our specialist team we have decades of experience of defending businesses accused in these types of situations.  We also have professional working relationships with prosecuting authorities, and we are able to employ this to seek an end to any investigation at an early stage.”

Can you go into more detail regarding specific areas of criminal law that affect businesses?
“Our various teams within the Group cover every single criminal offence that anyone can be charged with – assault, theft, burglary, possession of drugs, etc – and whilst those general crimes may be committed by everyday people, we have a dedicated team that has a more focused approach for businesses. By definition businesses don’t tend to be viewed as thieves or ‘vagabonds’, but there are lots of rules about running companies, and those who fall foul of those are often involved in civil proceedings, or even criminal proceedings. The areas we are looking at include instances of proposed furlough fraud, also R&D tax fraud. In fact, there are many areas in business, particularly since the pandemic measures were rolled out, where the authorities take a view that if information provided by a business is misleading in order to claim monies falsely, it’s a fraud. Now, that may be a misunderstanding by the authorities, but if the business is charged with an offence they will need defending in an attempt to bring a resolution to the matter as quickly as possible.

“Another common situation is when key individuals within a business rely heavily on being able to use their driving licences – directors, business development and sales staff for example. When 12 points are reached the minimum first ban on driving would be for 6 months. This can be catastrophic, not just for individuals but for the businesses themselves. One of my areas of expertise is to aim to convince a magistrate to let the offender retain their licence even after accruing 12 penalty points.”

When a business or individual approaches you for help, how do you proceed?
“The first thing to do is to understand the problem, and letting them know someone is on their side. Empathy, and being able to listen, are vital attributes of this job. There are times when one could say that a corporate manslaughter situation is far more serious than losing a licence, particularly when the former situation may end in a prison sentence. However, for a client to lose their licence could be disastrous for them in many different ways, and it’s important to understand and appreciate how important the ramifications are for that particular person.”

Do Petherbridge Bassra collaborate with other law firms – and if so can you describe how that works?
“When I became Chair of the Leeds chapter of BITA (British and Irish Trade Alliance) we were pleased to offer our full range of legal services to the members. At the same time though, an area that members were keen to engage with was general commercial work which isn’t in our domain, so we guide businesses to Blacks Solicitors, with whom we have had a very good relationship with over the years.”

Going back to allegations of fraud, are there any alternatives to having to go to court?
“Yes, often in negotiations with government bodies like HMRC, there can be an accommodation that can be reached, for example, paying back a sum of money. Basically, treating the issue as a civil disposal in order to avoid court proceedings. Much depends on the attitude of a government body, and also the evidence in the case, and ultimately whether it’s right to repay the money. Sometimes a business has been overpaid by a certain amount from an external body, and the overpayment has to be returned. The question is sometimes whether that overpayment is the result of criminal activity, or simply a mistake. There can be a very fine line between both situations. Sometimes paying the money back can result in a negotiation where there is a diversion from the criminal courts, and the matter can be brought to an end. We actively pursue that on behalf of our clients.”

What do you enjoy most working for Petherbridge Bassra?
“My favourite part is representing individuals and businesses. Taking the pressures caused by being in these situations and the anxiety that follows and being able to walk them through the journey and get a result at the end of that journey that resolves those pressures. It’s the process of being there for my clients throughout the whole journey, dealing with those difficulties and guiding and supporting them.” 

In your view what qualities make a good lawyer?
“Firstly, it’s crucial that you only take on cases in areas that you are skilled in working, specifically within your area of specialism. Secondly, it’s very important to supply your client with the reassurance that they need at any given stage during that process and show them that you’re on their side – you have their back and you will do everything to defend them. With criminal law it’s also crucial you are available for your clients 24/7. I really believe to do everything you can takes a lot of effort and expertise, but it’s vital a client has confidence in his solicitor. It’s up to your abilities as a good lawyer to develop that confidence.”

How do you see the firm developing over the next five years?
“At the moment we’re developing the firm after having acquired a nearby practice called Bird & Daniels Solicitors. They specialise in wills, probate and conveyancing. We operate under the over-arching brand of the ‘Petherbridge Bassra Group’, which we’re currently expanding to offer even more services. Another area mentioned before is the problem of potential fraud as a result of the pandemic. We’re aligning our services to cater specifically for this kind of support to all businesses in all sectors.”

How about yourself – where do you personally want to be in five years.
“I’d like to be in a position by then to ensure the practice is worthy to be passed down to the directors and shareholders in a succession strategy. I would personally want to continue to develop and maintain the firm’s reputation to that point and beyond. The legacy that I will be looking at will be a firm that has grown solidly over the previous 30 years and that over the next five years will develop and grow with the addition of many more services.”

You recently became Chair of BITA Leeds Chapter (British and Irish Trade Alliance) network group. How has this benefitted Petherbridge Bassra Solicitors?
“There’s a real alignment between what I can offer people on a professional level and the personal relationships developed through regular networking. When a group of people come together and get to know each other in the way we operate BITA, there are real positives to be taken through not just the wellbeing of belonging to such a group, but for doing good business too. From the firm’s perspective, the more people that personally get to know me, the more those people can benefit if they were to encounter any of the legal difficulties mentioned above. It’s a case of spreading the word beyond the shores of Yorkshire through an organisation which is based throughout the country. This is of course the case for any business joining a networking group like BITA.”

“As a firm we are not simply bound by geography when looking to help businesses, and it is the national nature of BITA that helps raise not just our firm’s profile but every member of BITA that engages with the current offer of national zoom networking. This fits really well with the fact that we are already travelling the length and breadth of the UK supporting clients.”

Find out more about Petherbridge Bassra Solicitors Ltd, visit: petherbridgebassra.com or phone Tariq on 01274 724114 or mobile 07958 935479

Tariq is available 24/7