Regulators are never popular but the Bar’s watchdogs have seen sustained controversy finally escalate into a court challenge to their procedures.
The High Court earlier this month heard a claim for judicial review of the Bar’s regulatory procedures related to problems with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and Bar disciplinary tribunals identified last year.
The cases were brought before Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Kenneth Parker by three barristers who allege numerous defects in the Bar’s disciplinary system after each was charged with professional misconduct by the BSB, the Bar’s main watchdog, which acts as a prosecutor in disciplinary cases.
The three claims highlight questions regarding whether the tribunals considering conduct cases are properly independent. The claims follow the critical report by 5RB’s Desmond Browne QC into the Bar’s disciplinary regime, which revealed ‘systematic failures’ in the administration of tribunals last year.
Much of the criticism in Browne’s report focused on lax procedures for re-appointing members on the disciplinary panels and potential conflicts of interest. The report, which included 82 recommendations, was critical of both the BSB and the Council of the Inns of Court (COIC) in running the panels considering conduct hearings.
The three barristers are Yash Mehey, who is represented by Old Square Chambers’ John Hendy QC and Marc Beaumont of Windsor Chambers. Beaumont also acted for the second barrister, David Leathley. The third barrister, Josephine Hayes of Gough Square Chambers, represented herself.
The BSB was represented by Paul Nicholls QC and Tom Cross.
The barristers all had findings against them and saw appeals to the Visitors of the Inns of Court dismissed. The cases largely focus on the eligibility of tribunal panel members to sit. Mehey was charged with professional misconduct including drafting unarguable applications for judicial review, handling client monies outside of remuneration and failing to comply with Criminal Appeals Office requests. Leathley faced charges of conduct discreditable to a barrister while Hayes was charged with failing to submit record cards and not paying a £100 fine issued by the BSB.
The case reflects growing dissatisfaction with the Bar disciplinary regime and increasingly strident complaints from barristers regarding the procedures of the BSB and the COIC. There have been claims that an adverse finding against the Bar watchdogs would throw the disciplinary regime into disarray. A wider issue is whether the case will undermine the position of Bar regulators at a time when there have been calls to consolidate the oversight of lawyers.
Beaumont told Legal Business: ‘This is a very important case; probably the most important judicial review case about the regulation of barristers ever to be heard. It’s all about the system of discipline and if things have gone wrong it affects many cases.’
Mehey, who rejects all allegations, described the current system as a ‘kangaroo court’. He added: ‘My livelihood has been taken away, I have suffered losses to the extent of over £1m, my home was nearly taken away and I have suffered psychologically. My own regulators have been deceitful towards me.’
A ruling is expected in September.