News

Solicitor leader struck off for fiddling funds

By on

Curse of the Law Society governing body strikes again as disciplinary tribunal gives the bullet to council member

lead

A member of the solicitors’ profession governing body has been struck off for fiddling funds.

In the latest embarrassment for the Law Society — which represents the nearly 160,000 solicitors in England and Wales — the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal gave Richard Barnett the bullet.

Barnett, the former senior partner at Southport high street practice Barnetts, had been the society’s council member for Merseyside and District since 2005.

Barnett

He was found to have breached conflict of interest rules as well as having misused cash from a litigation funder.

According to a report in the Law Gazette, after a three-week hearing, the tribunal found Barnett had “spent litigation funding from the now-collapsed Axiom Legal Financing Fund on the running of the firm”.

The finding is the just the latest in a string of hiccups Chancery Lane has had with its elected council members.

Some 20 years ago, a then-City law firm partner, John Young, was forced to decline the Law Society’s presidency after he admitted to a series of minor groping episodes, including those involving women fellow council members.

Five years later, Chancery Lane found itself in the media glare when the lawyer set to be its first woman and ethnic minority president successfully sued the organisation for race and sex discrimination.

The Law Society eventually successfully appealed that ruling involving Kamlesh Bahl, but doing so kept the saga in the legal and mainstream press for at least another four years.

A bizarre twist on that story involved former Law Society President Robert Sayer. The Crown Prosecution Service charged the conveyancing solicitor with allegedly creating a false identity — that of a country vicar — and forging a passport in a convoluted bid to discredit his archenemy Bahl. Prosecutors ultimately dropped the case on medical grounds.

More recently, the Law Society’s 2013-14 president, Nicholas Fluck, was slapped with a no confidence motion at a special general meeting called by criminal law solicitors. They angrily maintained there was a Chancery Lane policy of appeasement of the Ministry of Justice over the government’s legal aid reforms.

And only a few weeks ago, last year’s council president, Andrew Caplen, had to bat away suggestions that his strong Christian beliefs had prevented him from backing a high-profile Law Society campaign to support Gay Pride events.

Back to Richard Barnett — the Law Gazette reported that the full tribunal judgment would be published later in the summer and that the ruling might be subject to appeal.

However, it appears that any appeal will not save Barnett his council seat. A society spokesman intoned:

We will be running a by-election for a council seat in Merseyside and District.

Local solicitors will undoubtedly be on tenterhooks.