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Ex-Tory councillor makes late guilty pleas to fraud and pretending to be a barrister

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Gray’s Inn student member awaits sentencing after Legal Cheek exposed Bar Council rules error

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A former Surrey local councillor today pleaded guilty on the courtroom steps to fraud and illegally claiming to be a barrister — after maintaining her innocence for nearly a year.

Monika Juneja — who represented Guildford Borough Council’s entertainingly-named ward of Burpham — cracked a trial listed to kick-off at the Old Bailey in London.

According to Get Surrey — the website of the Surrey Advertiser newspaper — the 37-year-old pleaded guilty to three counts of forgery, one of pretending to be a barrister and one of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception. Having entered not guilty pleas in December, the late change of heart is likely to be reflected in a harsher sentence.

Three remaining fraud counts will lie on the file, according to the newspaper.

Tale of woe

Juneja’s string of offences was also highly embarrassing for the bar’s professional authorities. The tale of woe dates back to 2001, when Juneja enrolled as a student member of Gray’s Inn. She was understood to have passed the then-Bar Vocational Course, but did not seek to be called.

Her professional status was queried when Juneja was elected to the local council. And in March last year, Legal Cheek discovered that the Bar Council had initially advised Guildford officials that she was entitled to describe herself as a barrister, providing she did not maintain to be practising or offering legal advice.

But that information — supplied, according to the Bar Council, by a junior staffer — was dead wrong. Under provisions of the Legal Services Act 2007, vocational course graduates must also be called before being able to describe themselves as “non-practising barristers” — in other words, those that have not completed pupillage.

Fractious relations

That clanger of advice to Guildford Council exacerbated already fractious relations between the bar’s representative body and the profession’s regulator. The Bar Standards Board was forced to write a humbling letter of apology to the burghers of Guildford, effectively carrying the can for its sister organisation’s cock up.

All of which will give Junja plenty to chew over as she awaits sentencing. And it will be interesting to see if a spot of porridge lies ahead.

Only a few weeks ago, 50-year-old David Abbott was handed two years and three months of choky for passing himself off as a fully-qualified barrister.

That case and Juneja’s change-of-heart guilty plea will increase pressure on the BSB to tighten the rules on call and the definition of the word barrister.

Previously:

Tory councillor who described herself as a ‘barrister’ despite never being called to the Bar is arrested [Legal Cheek]