Barrister misled court into removing child from father

Police: Helped barrister remove child from father

A non-practising barrister whose dishonest submissions to a court caused it to order the removal of a small child from her father has been disbarred.

A Bar disciplinary tribunal said there had been a “serious failure” on the part of James Stephen Preece “to act with integrity and honesty in the representations he made to the court”.

Mr Preece was called in 2017 but did not complete pupillage. At the time of the misconduct, he was working as a case manager at West London law firm MB Law.

He is not to be confused with James Christopher Preece of 18 St John Street Chambers in Manchester.

The matter concerned a two-year-old girl who lived with the father. In July 2019, the court made various orders, including a prohibited steps order that prevented the mother from removing the child from his care without its or the father’s consent.

MB Law was instructed after this and in September that year applied to the court for a without-notice hearing to vary the orders and grant the mother full custody.

As an employee of the firm, Mr Preece had a right of audience to appear in the Family Court in chambers.

However, at the hearing, Mr Preece instead told the deputy district judge that he was a criminal barrister who was acting for the mother on a related matter that “probably won’t be prosecuted”.

In fact, she was convicted the following month; the tribunal said this was a “reckless” thing to say “based on an optimistic hope that the CPS would decide not to proceed”.

The tribunal found that he made multiple incorrect and misleading statements to the court, such as that the mother was the girl’s primary carer and the father had simply taken her. He did not refer the court to the July orders.

He also made serious allegations against the father without explaining that they were disputed, including that the father was an alcoholic, used sexual violence towards the mother, and was in a sexual relationship with his sister.

As a result, the judge ordered the father to return the child to the mother forthwith; Mr Preece did not serve the order within 48 hours, as required by the rules, and four days later he and two police officers removed the child from the father’s home.

Two days after that, on an application by the father, a circuit judge discharged the order and reinstated the July orders. The child was returned to the father straight after the hearing.

The father’s solicitors reported Mr Preece – who left MB Law in March 2020 – to the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

The tribunal found that Mr Preece had not been honest in his presentation of the situation and lacked integrity in the way he made the allegations against the father. He also misled the court as to his professional status.

It said there had been harm to the child, the father and potentially the reputation of the profession.

Mr Preece did not engage with the tribunal, which said the dishonest statements made to the court justified disbarment. On its own, the failure to explain his professional status would have attracted a suspension, it added.

Mr Preece was also ordered to pay costs of £4,770.

A BSB spokesman said: “The tribunal’s decision to disbar Mr Preece reflects the seriousness of the charges against him. Mr Preece presented himself to the court as a practising criminal barrister with full rights to appear in front of the court, when that was not the case.

“He also knowingly made a series of misleading, incorrect and dishonest statements to the court.  Such conduct is entirely incompatible with holding the title of barrister as indicated by the tribunal’s decision to disbar Mr Preece.”

    Readers Comments

  • Timothy Phillips says:

    * in September 2019, Mr Preece applied to the court for a without-notice hearing to vary orders made in July 2019 but
    * “He did not refer the court to the July orders.”

    Was there a written application that mentions the July orders – and did the deputy district judge read it?

  • BigHerc says:

    Typical solicitor…

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