Law graduate was originally cleared of wrongdoing for using ‘barrister’ title, but Legal Cheek‘s identification of serious Bar Council error in investigation leads to intervention by police.
Conservative councillor Monika Juneja has been arrested and questioned on suspicion of pretending to be a barrister under Section 181 of the Legal Services Act 2007.
Juneja enrolled as a student member of Gray’s Inn in 2001 before going on to apparently gain a “Competent” on the Bar Vocational Course (now the Bar Professional Training Course) without being called to the Bar. The Guildford Borough Councillor was completely exonerated from any wrong-doing by an investigation into her use of the ‘barrister’ title earlier this year.
But the validity of the investigation’s findings was brought into question in March after Legal Cheek spotted that it relied on a very serious mistake made by the Bar Council.
The Bar Council’s statement to the investigation claimed: “It is not an offence to simply call yourself a barrister in this country even if not called to the Bar of England and Wales” as long as it’s not in connection with the provision of legal services.
The rules governing use of the ‘barrister’ title are confusing, but the Bar Council’s statement is clearly incorrect. Section 181 of the Legal Services Act states: “It is an offence for a person who is not a barrister — (a) wilfully to pretend to be a barrister, or (b) with the intention of implying falsely that that person is a barrister to take or use any name, title or description.” The Bar Council has since issued an apology and pledged to review its procedures.
Despite basing much of its findings on the Bar Council’s erroneous advice, the investigation into Juneja was not re-opened. It is at this point that the police appear to have been made aware of the situation.
Earlier this month Surrey Police arrested Juneja at her home. A Surrey Police spokesman said:
“A 35 year-old woman from Guildford was arrested on 7 May on suspicion of committing the criminal offences of wilfully pretending to be a barrister, making and using false instruments, and misconduct in a public office.
“The woman has been interviewed and bailed until July 2 2014, and the investigation remains ongoing.”
Juneja, who has not been charged with an offence, has since told local radio station Eagle 96.4:
“I didn’t realise that they were coming, the police have obviously had complaints and have had to look into this. It was very scary, certainly at 8pm to be taken to the station.
“I live with my parents and my brother and they were really upset and confused as to what was happening. I’m very sorry that people have felt that they have been let down in any way.”
She has also suggested that her arrest is “politically and racially motivated” and is linked to her overseeing of plans to plans to build hundreds of new homes in Surrey that would potentially remove some villages’ green belt status.
The offence of pretending to be a barrister carries a maximum prison sentence of two years, although it is also punishable by a fine.