A public access barrister who failed to pass on fees payable to a colleague has been suspended by a Bar disciplinary tribunal.
In addition to the four-month suspension Martha Knowlden received for that, she was given a six-week suspension – to run concurrently – for failing to tell a client about a court order and not acting herself to make sure that the order was complied with.
The barrister, who was called in 2000, was acting for a public access client on a family law matter in Maidstone, although the tribunal ruling does not specify whether it was the same client involved in each of the five charges she faced.
The tribunal decided that her actions diminished public confidence in her as a barrister and also fell short of the standard of work and service a client can expect.
Ms Knowlden was further reprimanded and fined £1,000 for three other charges relating to failures to manage her practice competently – not sending a client-care letter and not detailing the work done for the fee charged – as well as handling client money.
She received £500 ‘on account’ initially and then between £3,000 and £4,000 two months later. The latter sum was “procured… on terms that this sum or part of it would be applied by her to discharge the outstanding fees of another barrister instructed by her client in that case”, the tribunal recorded.
“[She] thereafter purported to apply all that sum to discharge her own fees… and made no payment to the barrister.”
By doing so, Ms Knowlden acted without integrity, the tribunal said.
A Bar Standards Board spokesman said: “Barristers who fail to provide a competent standard of work and service can cause serious harm to the interests of their clients and failing to handle fees correctly can reduce the confidence the public have in barristers carrying out their work.
“The tribunal’s decision to suspend Ms Knowlden reflects this.”