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Bar watchdog issues public apology to silk over Djibouti allegations

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today (19 September) issued a highly unusual apology to Serle Court’s Khawar Qureshi QC after the senior barrister was subjected to a year-long investigation over unfounded misconduct allegations.

The matter turned on Qureshi’s representation of East African republic Djibouti in a high-profile civil fraud case between the state and the businessman Abdourahman Boreh. In April 2015 another barrister involved in the proceedings made three allegations that the silk had misled High Court judge Justice Flaux.

Despite Qureshi pointing out that an 83-page judgment made by Flaux in March 2015 had found that it was Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Peter Gray that had misled the court, the allegations against Qureshi were considered between May 2015 and July 2016 by the BSB.

The first two allegations were dismissed without the need for a formal investigation in June 2015. The third claim was adjourned until April 2016, before being finally dismissed in July the same year. Qureshi had also decided to self-report on the matter, which went public after the details were picked up by the press following an apparent leak.

As a result, the BSB has apologised to Qureshi ‘for any distress or prejudice resulting from errors and delay on the part of the BSB prior to its dismissal of the allegations’.

A spokesperson for Qureshi added: ‘He hopes that no more barristers are subjected to such treatment, and that, in future, the BSB will be more robust in protecting the reputation of barristers. This is vital in the context of ever more aggressive litigation and the use of media for smear tactics.’

The barrister’s spokesperson also highlighted that Qureshi’s decision to self-report, though he was not obliged to, effectively damaged his reputation thanks to the leak as it could be used to ‘besmirch a barrister’s reputation’.

According to the BSB’s statement, the incident was ‘the first time ever that the fact of a “self-report” was deliberately leaked to the press’. The BSB denies being responsible for the leak.

After Gray was found to have misled the Court, he was suspended from Gibson Dunn. The US-based law firm also made an apology of its own, as partner Lord Falconer made reparations with the High Court, Boreh and Djibouti for the error.

It is unclear what caused the 14-month delay between the third allegation being dismissed by the BSB and today’s public apology, though a spokesman for the BSB said that the wording and timeframe was agreed by mutual consent between the watchdog and Qureshi.

But with legal regulators increasingly aiming to take a proactive stance on enforcement, such tussles could become a more frequent feature of professional life.