Bar Standards Board v O'Riordan [20 January 2014]

In this case the Visitors of the Inns of Court (the visitors) allowed an appeal by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) against a decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Inns of Court (the tribunal) on the basis that fresh evidence, had it been before the tribunal, would have resulted in the tribunal coming to a different decision.

The visitors were satisfied that the fresh evidence would not have been apparent during the investigation which had preceded the tribunal hearing and, having admitted that evidence, overturned the suspension imposed by the tribunal and substituted an order for disbarment.

Factual background

A, a barrister, was suspended from practice for three years after admitting three charges of misconduct before a hearing of the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Inns of Court (the tribunal). The charges related to the inclusion of false particulars in CVs published on websites of A's chambers and employer, and also in an application to join new chambers.

The CVs included various false claims about his qualifications, including that he had obtained Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Civil Law degrees (First Class) from Balliol College (Oxford), and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the same college. In fact, his only degree was from the University of East Anglia (a 2:1 in law) and, while he had started a Doctorate of Philosophy at Oxford, he had never completed his studies there.

A's mitigation, which the tribunal accepted, was that his motivation in making the false claims was not a desire for career advancement but to make his mother proud of him. He claimed that he had been estranged from his mother, who was now in poor health, for many years due to his homosexuality. He also felt a sense of educational inadequacy, particularly in comparison with his cousins who had attended Radley College and Oxford University. When his mother died in 2007 he felt unable to remove the false claims, which by then had been included in a number of websites.

Importantly, A claimed in his mitigation that no further false claims had been invented after 2007.

The tribunal accepted that A was instructed by those who knew his work and on the basis of his expertise rather than on any CV, and that no financial advantage had been gained or any member of the public exposed to risk.

The tribunal concluded, by a majority of three to two, that as:

  • there was no evidence that A had benefited financially from his dishonesty and
  • there was no evidence of further dishonesty post 2007

it would, exceptionally, suspend him from practice rather than disbar him.

The appeal

As a result of the publicity surrounding the tribunal proceedings, another barrister drew the BSB's attention to a CV which A had appended to an expert report he had prepared in 2012 for use in matrimonial proceedings (the report). The report, which addressed the character of a swap agreement entered into by one of the parties in those proceedings, contained the following paragraph:

My qualifications include Bachelor of Arts (Law) honours degree First Class, a Bachelor of Laws honours degree First Class and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy research degree from the University of Oxford (the law in relation to financial derivative arrangements).

The BSB submitted that the report substantially undermined the mitigation advanced by A in the tribunal in that:

  • it demonstrated that A's position post 2007 was not merely a passive failure to correct inaccurate information on the internet,
  • the false particulars in the report were subtly different from those previously advanced by the respondent, and
  • the claim that A had a Doctorate of Philosophy from Oxford in relation to financial derivative arrangements went to the heart of the subject matter of the report and was likely to materially mislead both the opposing party in the litigation and the court.

The BSB also submitted that the report demonstrated that A had gained a financial advantage and that it was highly likely that, if the tribunal had been aware of the Report, the view of the majority of its members would have been different.

While A had initially opposed the appeal, he later gave notice that he no longer wished to do so and indicated that he would submit to an order disbarring him from practice.

The visitors' decision

The visitors were satisfied that this evidence (ie, the report) would not have been apparent on an investigation of the work diaries and other material filed by A in the tribunal proceedings and also that, had the tribunal known of the report, the majority view would have been different. Accordingly the order of the tribunal was quashed and an order for disbarment was substituted.