Barrister with council tax conviction fails in disbarment appeal

Manchester City Council: Tax fraud

The High Court has rejected an appeal from a barrister disbarred after a council tax conviction and submission of dishonest evidence to a Crown Court.

Mrs Justice Hill said the Bar disciplinary tribunal which disbarred Sky Bibi had been “very accommodating” to the fact she was representing herself and had not “predetermined the case”.

Ms Bibi was convicted in 2018 of an offence under the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Detection of Fraud Enforcement) Regulations 2013, having pleaded not guilty.

The barrister, called in 2007, was found to have failed to disclose a change of circumstances to Manchester City Council, in this case work and the receipt of income, resulting in her receiving £1,054 in council tax benefit to which she was not entitled.

She was given a 12-month conditional discharge and costs order of £1,000.

Chester Crown Court dismissed her appeal in September 2019, finding that she had lied to the court in her evidence in multiple ways, such as saying she had disclosed all of her bank accounts to the council when making her initial benefit claim.

Her conditional discharge was varied to a community order, and her costs order increased to £2,500, with the addition of a 28-day curfew.

Between June and October 2019, Ms Bibi worked for Lancashire and London solicitors Backhouse Jones.

She was disbarred in September 2021 for the council tax conviction, for dishonestly stating evidence in various ways to Chester Crown Court during her appeal and failing to disclose her conviction to Backhouse Jones.

Delivering judgment in Bibi v Bar Standards Board [2022] EWHC 921 (Admin), Hill J said Ms Bibi, representing herself, argued in her appeal that no accommodation was made in the tribunal proceeding for her as a “vulnerable person”.

The judge said the transcript of the June hearing suggested the tribunal was “very accommodating” to the fact she was representing herself.

“It shows that the tribunal gave careful consideration to her application for a stay and the various other preliminary issues she raised, as appropriate. She made lengthy submissions throughout. She cross-examined the Backhouse Jones witnesses. She also gave evidence.”

The tribunal hearing was then adjourned to September, when the Bar Standards Board continued its cross-examination.

Hill J said she did not discern from the June transcript any comments from Ms Bibi that she needed “further accommodation” for her needs.

The barrister also complained that the tribunal had “taken against her and predetermined the case, as it had read the Crown Court judgment and seen the comments made therein about her honesty”.

However, Hill J said the chair of the tribunal had “specifically reminded” its members of the importance of reaching their own conclusions.

“In my view there is no basis for the allegation that the tribunal considered her evidence and submissions other than impartially and with an open mind.

“Overall, I do not consider that there was any appearance of bias or unfairness in the tribunal proceedings in the manner alleged.”

In her other grounds of appeal, Ms Bibi argued that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction, should have stayed the proceedings because she had made an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, was not entitled to rely on her conviction as conclusive proof of her offence, failed to provide reasons and erred in its findings owing to gaps in the evidence.

Rejecting all of these, Hill J dismissed Ms Bibi’s appeal.

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