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Lord Keen QC cleared of professional misconduct after firearms conviction

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Top Scottish lawyer appeared before disciplinary tribunal today

Lord Keen QC (Credit: Blackstone Chambers)

A top Scottish lawyer and government minister has been cleared of professional misconduct by a bar disciplinary tribunal.

The charge against Lord Keen of Elie QC arose out of his criminal record for a firearms offence.

But a Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service panel found today that while Keen had breached his core regulatory duties as a barrister, the breach was not serious enough to constitute professional misconduct.

Keen said that he was “relieved” that the charge had been dismissed.

In 2017, Keen pleaded guilty to breaching the conditions of his shotgun licence. Police investigating a break-in at his swanky Edinburgh residence found a shotgun in a cupboard in his basement, when it was supposed to be locked away in a safe.

Keen was handed a fine of £1,000, which he paid immediately, but was later hauled before the tribunal by the barristers’ regulator.

Core Duty 5 of the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) handbook tells barristers that “you must not behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or in the profession”.

The tribunal found that Keen was in breach of this duty, but absolved him of the charge of professional misconduct.

Tom Forster QC, for the BSB, had earlier told the tribunal that “breach of a condition of a shotgun certificate is not a minor criminal offence”, saying that Keen’s conduct was “appreciably culpable and placed the public at risk”.

Tom Richards, for Keen, said that this was an “isolated lapse” and merely a “regulatory offence” that was “entirely outwith the course of professional practice”.

Police discovered the unsecured gun while investigating a burglary at Keen’s five-story Edinburgh townhouse — the top silk’s second home — on New Year’s Eve.

Keen had used the gun on 27 December 2016 while out shooting, left it in the basement intending to clean it and put it in a gun safe, but forgot before leaving the country on holiday the next day.

Section 2(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 says that “it is an offence for a person to fail to comply with a condition subject to which a shotgun certificate is held by him”. Keen’s certificate included a condition that it “must be stored securely so as to prevent, so far as reasonably practicable, access to the shotgun by an unauthorised person”.

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Arguing that leaving the gun unlocked was serious enough to constitute professional misconduct, Forster said that this was a “residential property in an urban area”, which placed a “heightened obligation on Lord Keen to ensure that it [the shotgun] was kept securely”.

He said that Keen’s position in the government was “not irrelevant”, adding that “very senior practitioners, particularly if they are law officers, are in a different position to your six-month pupil”.

Richards said that the Advocate General took “full responsibility for his offence” but argued that it was “manifestly not such as to constitute professional misconduct”.

He emphasised that Keen had intended to lock the gun away securely but simply forgot. “This shotgun was in the cellar of the property in Edinburgh which was locked and alarmed, so the shotgun was kept secured from members of the public. That is a very important point in considering the risk to the public which was posed by this one-off lapse”.

Richards, who like Keen is a member of Blackstone Chambers, said that “within the spectrum of section 2(2) offences, this was not a serious one”.

Keen appeared before the tribunal in person but did not give live evidence. He did, however, submit an uncontested witness statement.

Although Keen is a Scottish QC, the English tribunal had jurisdiction because he was also called to the bar of England and Wales in 2009.

Delivering the tribunal’s decision, Michael Topolski QC said that “We find there was indeed a breach of CD5 because in failing to secure the shotgun, there was a potential consequential risk to the public which is a serious matter.”

But the panel went on to hold that his conduct was “not so resoundingly serious” as to constitute professional misconduct, adding that it “lacked any morally culpable quality and was committed unintentionally”. The tribunal also noted that Keen had held shotgun licences without incident for 25 years, and that the police had given his licence back despite the conviction.

Reacting to the result, Keen said:

“I was disappointed that the BSB brought this complaint. I was very disappointed at the very lengthy period of time it took to deal with the complaint. I’m obviously relived that the complaint has been rejected and dismissed.”

Topolski had also criticised the regulator’s “terribly long delay” in bringing the case. Keen reported himself to the BSB on 8 March 2017 but was not informed that it was taking action against him until 23 November that year.

Richards, who represented Keen pro bono, argued that the Conservative minister should get back the cost of instructing solicitors Addleshaw Goddard given the “undue delay” in bringing proceedings. The tribunal will decide the costs issue at a later date.

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40 Comments

Spaffed up the wall

Was it really proportionate for the BSB to instruct a silk for this? Was it not possible to instruct one of the huge number of very competent specialist regulatory juniors, likely for a fraction of the cost?

Anonymous

Proportionality? The BSB? Next you’ll be saying using regulatory powers to suspend a barrister who wrote tasteless drunken late night posts on Facebook is disproportionate too.

Clown

Ridiculous over reach by the BSB.

More bollox

Spot on…the offence has no bearing on his ability / suitability to practise. Seems like the BSB/SRA have a little Napoleon complex going on at the moment…

Anonymous

BSB has gone power crazy nowadays. The main thing bringing the profession into disrepute seems to be the BSB.

Seniorish Junior

How did this pass any BSB public interest test? This is why I resent paying my PCF – it funds an overreaching bureaucracy which plainly thought “Oh look, legal officer in the headlights, let’s have a crack”. Ridiculous.

Before some wag comments, I am not LK nor do I even know the fellow.

Anonn

Because it’s in the public interest not to leave guns lying around where anyone with nefarious intentions could get their hands on them?

Can’t believe this needs to be spelt out to adults.

Anon

True. But that is what firearms regulation is for. He was prosecuted for the breach of his shotgun licence and fined. It is also in the public interest that people do not speed, drive with bald tyres or park illegally, which is what FPN from the council / police are for.

The BSB do not take regulatory action for speeding or other non-imprisonable motoring offences nor are you required to report them to the BSB as long as the offence is dealt with by a FPN. Being carless in this way (or not checking your speed or tyre tread carefully) is rightly an offence, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with your standing as a barrister and should therefore be subject to double jeopardy. Its up to the police to regulate his fitness to own a shotgun, which they did. Making sure barristers are careful with shotguns, cars or any other non-professional regulatory matter isn’t what the BSB or SRA are meant to be regulating.

Seniorish Junior

Not in the gun safe in the basement of a locked and alarmed townhouse. Hardly lying around.

Given the break in, do you seriously consider that if the thieves wanted the shotgun, the gun safe would have been adequate, even were it locked?

anonon

Dear seniorish junior:
…a locked and alarmed townhouse *which was nevertheless broken into* !!! so the fact that it was locked and alarmed seems a bit irrelevant. and a criminal [burglar] clearly would have absolutely no interest in obtaining a gun. 5 floors to search, just lucky that they happened not to start in the basement…

Anonymous

Agreed, as a shotgun owner, the first thing I do after using my gum is to clean it and then lock it in my gun safe.

Anonymous

Give it to the estate’s ghillie, man. Don’t do that sort of thing yourself.

Anonymous

Like the Beckwith case, this is miles outside of the remit of the regulator.

Anonymous

He might appeal given this verdict – appreciate it’s a different verdict but the SDT decision looks increasingly at odds with common sense.

Anon

Since he won at first instrance, it would be unwise of him to appeal his own win.

Anonymous

The comment was about Beckwith. He and Keen are different people.

Anonymous

Keen is a barrister. Beckwith is a solicitor who was fined almost a quarter of a million pounds for having sex because he’s male.

Anonymous

The careers of white males must be sacrificed to the gods of social justice warriors.

F This

these regulators need to stop thinking they are gods, let us lawyers be ourselves online. This is not china where they want to dictate everything.

Anonymous

Your ability to speak ‘freely’ is not curtailed by the regulator, but by criminal laws already in place to prevent abuse against minorities.

There has never been a legal ‘right’ to say whatever you like in the UK, as there is in the USA.

Anonymous

So leave the issue to the criminal law. The BSB are going further by intervening in cases that have not engaged criminal processes. Which on your own superficial comment would make it the curtailment of free speech by a regulator and a regulator alone.

Mr Pooey Bum QC

Anon @5:30pm is just the kind of snake to grass you up to the BSB for saying something “inappropriate”.

Always exercise extreme caution in this profession. Especially around the terminally self-righteous (ie lefties, probably >95% of all lawyers currently).

Anonymous

You are referring to article 10 of the ECHR, correct? I would be justified in saying it gives me the remit to say whatever I like, provided what I like is not subject to derogations, such as the overriding interest of others’ rights.

Ciaran Goggins

Tooled up, innit Bruv, dutty Babylon.

Sir Patrick Star QC

I keep a loaded firearm in my cupboard in my office. Frankly it is absolutely nothing to do with the SRA or BSB as I have a permit.

The Gunsligher (UK Legal)

No you do not. You may own a shotgun legaly with a Shotgun License. If you have a firearms licence you may own a pump-action shotgun with up to an 8 shell capacity, a single action pistol or revolver (as long as the barrel is 30cm or more) or any type of rifle as long as it is neither semi or fully automatic. A firearms licence allows you to own the weapon. On no account does it allow you to carry it or even keep it in a draw as it must be secured when not in use. This isn’t America!

Anonymous

Someone this literal and dull does more harm to the profession than any of these poor souls dragged up before the SRA or the BSB.

Kev

If you can’t carry it, how does you transport it to a gun range?

Gunslinger (UK Legal)

No you do not. You may own a shotgun with up to a 3 shell capcity with a Shotgun License. If you have a firearms licece you may own a pump-action shotgun with up to an 8 shell capacity, a single action pistol or revolver (as long as the barrel is 30cm or more) or any type of rifle as long as it is neither semi or fully automatic. A firearms licence allows you to own the weapon. On no account does it allow you to carry it or even keep it in a draw as it must be secured when not in use. This isn’t America!

Retired Silk

This was a prosecution which should never, ever have been brought and the tribunal is to be complimented on having reached the right decision. How a moment of carelessness in a non-professional matter could ever be characterised as professional misconduct is beyond me.

Paris Carver

Tell me, Lord Keen: do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?

Kev

As a Tank, I am shocked… SHOCKED!… that this would occur. If this happened in the US, there’d be lawsuits against the police and City.

QC

Its the BSB that need to be hauled up before a court, this is just another (yet another) case of the BSB gun ho appraoch and blood thirst approach to its statutory duties.

Anonymous

Lord Lester wasn’t found guilty or voted out by the House of Lords and was cleared by the BSB.

Anonymous

Actually his packing of serious heat has increased my trust of the bar

Anon

Right result. And yet Lord Lester QC was found guilty of sexual harassment and abuse of position and voted out of the House of Lords, but he was not sanctioned by the BSB.

Anonymous

Actually Lord Lester wasn’t found guilty of anything by the HoL, wasn’t voted out of the HoL and was completely cleared of any wrongdoing by the BSB. He’s seen by many people as a victim.

Anonymous

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2018-12-17/debates/E9E8AE1E-3CD4-4166-BCF9-0765260054A9/PrivilegesAndConductCommittee

“The Senior Deputy Speaker

The noble Lord said that there were six contemporaneous witnesses. We invite Members to read their accounts.

In her own words,

“on the basis of the strong and cogent evidence of the complainant and her witnesses”,

the commissioner found that Jasvinder Sanghera was a victim of sexual harassment and that Lord Lester was guilty of a grave abuse of power. The Committee for Privileges and Conduct reviewed and endorsed this view. We ask the House to do the same. I hope the House will now agree to this report.

Motion agreed.”

The Hansard report speaks for itself. The House voted to endorse the findings of the Committee that Lester was guilty of sexual harassment and abuse of position. That is why they recommended that he be suspended. In turn, that is why he referred himself to the BSB when the House reached its decision. (No need if the House had rejected the Committee’s decision and thereby exonerated him.)

The issue before the BSB was whether, despite his conduct, he should be given clearance to practise. The BSB gave him such clearance. That shows the huge gulf between the approaches of the SRA and the BSB.

Anonymous

Indeed, Lord Lester wasn’t found guilty of anything by the HoL, wasn’t voted out of the HoL and was completely cleared of any wrongdoing by the BSB. He’s seen by many people as a victim. Even the SRA wouldn’t have found him guilty of anything had he been a solicitor. The HoL Commissioner’s investigation against him was clearly unfair.

Anonymous

Indeed, Lord Lester wasn’t found guilty of anything by the HoL, wasn’t voted out of the HoL and was completely cleared of any wrongdoing by the BSB. He’s seen by many people as a victim. Even the SRA wouldn’t have found him guilty of anything had he been a solicitor. The HoL Commissioner’s investigation against him was clearly unfair.

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