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High Court upholds disbarment of barrister who sought to conceal dishonesty conviction

In Bibi v Bar Standards Board [2022] EWHC 921 the High Court dismissed the appeal of Sky Bibi, a barrister who had been disbarred by the Bar Disciplinary Tribunal.  Ms Bibi had faced allegations of behaving in a way which was likely to diminish the trust and confidence in the profession and acting in a way to undermine her honesty and integrity.  This related to a criminal conviction, giving dishonest evidence when appealing that conviction and her failure to disclose the conviction to her employer.

The underlying conviction concerned a failure by Ms Bibi to disclose a change in her financial circumstances that she knew would affect her entitlement to a tax benefit or a reduction in council tax discount.  The Magistrates’ Court imposed a 12-month conditional discharge.  Ms Bibi appealed against her conviction to the Crown Court, but this was unsuccessful and the Crown Court increased her sentence to a community order (a cautionary tale in itself).  In dismissing the appeal, the Recorder noted that her evidence had been dishonest. Ms Bibi then failed to disclose her criminal conviction to her employer Backhouse Jones Solicitors providing a DBS certificate which had been issued prior to her conviction. The Disciplinary Tribunal found it ‘impossible’ to take any other action other than to disbar her given the dishonesty.

Ms Bibi appealed to the High Court on six grounds, inter alia, a technical point about service, whether the Tribunal ought to have stayed the proceedings and a jurisdictional point around the fact she had been convicted of a summary-only offence. The High Court will allow an appeal in circumstances where the decision of the Tribunal was either ‘wrong’ or unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity.  Somewhat unsurprisingly, the appeal was dismissed.

In a clear and reasoned judgment, Mrs Justice Hill found that the minor technical breaches were outweighed by the public interest in determining a serious issue and that they had caused no prejudice to Ms Bibi in her preparations for the disciplinary hearing.  She also rejected the contention that the Tribunal ought to have stayed the proceedings.  Moreover, she found that there had been no bias nor any serious procedural irregularity.

Lawyers found to have acted dishonesty will always find it difficult to persuade disciplinary tribunals not to use the ultimate sanction.  It was an uphill task for Ms Bibi following conviction in the Magistrates’ Court.  Her conduct in the subsequent appeal and her decision to attempt to conceal the conviction only compounded matters.  The latter point serves to highlight the importance of lawyers complying with regulatory obligations to self-report convictions.  Whilst a criminal conviction for dishonesty is often fatal, further dishonesty and concealment will invariably eliminate any chance of avoiding disbarment and may hamper any future attempt to rejoin the profession.


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