Barrister reprimanded for drugs convictions

Hemp: Barrister was foolish

A barrister has been reprimanded by a Bar disciplinary tribunal, after being convicted in Malawi of attempting to export hemp to the UK.

Allan Zalimba Joel Ntata, an unregistered (non-practising) barrister, admitted pleading guilty to the charges but said he had been “set up” because of his work in Malawi as an anti-corruption activist.

The tribunal questioned the extent to which the conviction would damage the reputation of the profession in England and Wales.

Mr Ntata, called in 2004, pleaded guilty in March 2022 to the possession of 38 grammes of Indian hemp and attempting to export it to the UK. He was ordered to pay a fine equivalent to £50.

The tribunal said it was concerned that Mr Ntata, “albeit not directly, was inviting the tribunal to go behind the fact of his convictions in Malawi” by maintaining that he had not committed the offences.

“The tribunal could not, even if they wanted to, go behind the convictions – they were, on their face, conclusive proof that Mr Ntata had committed the offences.”

The tribunal heard that an X-ray machine operator working at Chileka International Airport in Malawi found the hemp in a parcel Mr Ntata was sending to the UK.

The magistrate observed that the convictions “may have adverse effects” on his career, and the barrister admitted in mitigation that the convictions had “dented” his image as a legal practitioner.

In his evidence to the tribunal, Mr Ntata said the case had arisen from his work as an anti-corruption activist in Malawi and that “he had been set up in order to silence him”.

Mr Natata “told the tribunal something of the politics of Malawi and, in particular, of how those who exposed corruption (such as journalists) might be forced into hiding or otherwise persecuted”.

Because of his anti-corruption work for a former president, he had, after the death of that president, “found himself sued for treason and then defamation” – “trumped up charges” which “had, in due course, not been proceeded with”.

Mr Ntata claimed that someone who, at the time, he regarded as a friend asked him to send a parcel containing what he thought was coffee to the UK for them.

“When asked directly by the tribunal whether he had known that it contained cannabis he said that he had not. He had had nothing to do with the putting together of the parcel.”

Mr Natata said he was advised to plead guilty to the offences, otherwise he would have “languished in jail waiting for his trial” and the “scandal would have been even worse”.

The tribunal said his misconduct was “plainly, a one-off, out-of-character incident”. The impact on the profession had to be “carefully set in context”.

Mr Ntata was “a well-known anti-corruption activist working in Malawi, a country – the tribunal was told – beset by significant problems with fraud and financial mismanagement”.

“The tribunal questioned, in those circumstances, the degree to which the conduct of this particular unregistered barrister working in Malawi had, in fact, damaged the profession and diminished the public’s trust and confidence.

“This case did not concern a barrister practising in England and Wales trying to commercially export heroin from a UK airport, with the consequent devasting coverage in the UK press and media.”

However, Mr Ntata had been “foolish in the extreme”, in a country where “corruption was rife and where he was a target for political opponents”, to take “a pre-wrapped parcel from another and then arrange for that parcel, unchecked by him, to be despatched in his name on a plane to another country”.

The tribunal said a member of the public had reported Mr Ntata’s conviction to the BSB a few days after he was sentenced.

His failure to report it was “not deliberate, rather it was inadvertent” because he was called to the Bar nearly 20 years ago and was an unregistered barrister who worked overseas, with “no interaction” with the BSB.

Given his “straightened financial circumstances”, the tribunal reduced the £2,160 in costs claimed by the BSB to £250.

    Readers Comments

  • Paul Brown says:

    A convicted drug smuggler that eased guilty and you let him off with a £250 fine.

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