Former pupillage head launches judicial review over non-judge Visitors

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3 October 2014


inns of court

Visitors to the Inns of Court “acted unreasonably”

Ben Conlon, former head of the pupillage committee at 3 Temple Gardens, has launched a judicial review arguing that the Visitors to the Inns of Court should made up only of High Court judges.

The Visitors, who hear appeals from Bar disciplinary tribunals, upheld a professional misconduct ruling against Mr Conlon this summer, on the grounds that he ignored 98 online pupillage applications.

Mr Conlon told Legal Futures that he was seeking a declaratory judgment that the panel was improperly constituted and the ruling ultra vires, void and a breach of article 6 of the Human Rights Act.

He said the Bar Standards Board did not have the power to introduce a rule saying that barristers and lay people could be Visitors, as long as one of them was a High Court judge.

“The only way this could have happened was by an Act of Parliament, not by secondary legislation,” Mr Conlon said. “High Court judges cannot delegate their rights to be Visitors to anyone else. There is no such Act of Parliament in being.

“We now have a situation where two non-judges can dilute judges’ decisions, or outvote them by two to one.”

Mr Conlon went on: “I attacked the composition and jurisdiction of the Visitors from the outset. There have been afterthoughts, and subsequent challenges, but I think this is the first case of a direct challenge to the composition of the Visitors.

“When I found out they would not all be High Court judges, I did not turn up.”

The former barrister said the case was heard, in his absence, by Mrs Justice Asplin, barrister Jennifer Jones and JP Lucinda Barnett.

“I’m not doing this to be heroic or as part of a crusade,” Mr Conlon said. “There are a lot of my colleagues who can’t do what I’m doing and there is a great deal of injustice going on. I’m not going to lie down and give them an easy time. What more can they do to me?”

The judicial review claims that the Visitors were also unreasonable in failing to consider an acknowledged delay as an exceptional circumstance, or to examine new evidence that had emerged during that time.

Mr Conlon said he did not know until he received a copy of the ruling that the two joint heads of 3 Temple Gardens at the time, Paul Williams and Donald Gordon, whose conduct was also the subject of the appeal, were represented with funding from Bar Mutual.

“This must have been known by the administrators and the Visitors themselves,” Mr Conlon said. He has criticised the decision of Bar Mutual not to fund his case.

The Visitors upheld a ruling by the Bar disciplinary tribunal this summer that Mr Conlon was guilty of professional misconduct, and should be fined £1,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,390.

They allowed appeals by Mr Williams and Mr Gordon against the tribunal’s ruling that they were guilty of professional misconduct for failing to take “all reasonable steps” to ensure proper arrangements were in place for dealing with pupils.

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