A barrister who worked without a practising certificate (PC) for more than four years – which is a criminal offence – told a disciplinary tribunal he could do with “a good PA”.
David Farley was suspended for two months in a decision announced in June, but the full decision of the Bar disciplinary tribunal has only just been published.
Mr Farley, a criminal law specialist, was called in 2001 and currently practises from 23 Essex Street Chambers in Manchester.
By not holding a valid PC between May 2014 and August 2018, the tribunal found that he failed to take reasonable steps to manage his practice competently and in such a way as to achieve compliance with his legal and regulatory obligations.
It also found that his conduct was likely to have diminished the trust and confidence which the public placed in him and the profession.
It is a criminal offence under the Legal Services Act 2007 to carry on any reserved legal activities without a PC.
Mr Farley told the tribunal that he had erroneously believed that he was enrolled in the “block booking” system for PC renewals run by the two chambers from which he practised during the period. As soon as he was made aware that he was not, he stopped practising and applied for a PC.
Though he submitted that he was insured during the period without a PC, in fact he was not, as being authorised to practise is a condition precedent of cover from Bar Mutual. To date he has not received any complaints or claims arising from work done during the period.
Mr Farley apologised to the tribunal and said that, had it not been for personal problems, he would have checked far sooner that he had a PC.
In its ruling, the tribunal said: “It was accepted that this did not arise out of dishonesty or a deliberate act, but, nevertheless, the panel found some of the explanations given about how these failings were not identified sooner hard to accept, bearing in mind that the respondent had been in practice for more than a dozen years by the start of this period…
“On any view, there was a wilful disregard for obligations to manage a practice and make sure that key practising requirements were put in place. This was not something that could be delegated to a chambers other than the act of paying. Barristers knew, or should know, that they need to be involved in the process.”
However, the tribunal recognised “important mitigation” put forward by Mr Farley, accepting that “his personal life was problematic during this period” and that he was a “man of good character”.
It added: “He said he could do with a good PA. That may be something that could apply to many barristers but, of course, all barristers are subject to the obligation to take responsibility personally for the proper administration of their practice and appropriately to prioritise that.”
In deciding sanction, the tribunal said these were “serious breaches” and “this was a criminal offence over a long period… there was potential for harm to the public which was significant and sustained”.
It decided on a two-month suspension – to run from 22 July to allow Mr Farley to complete a five-week trial he was handling – and said it would have been longer but for the mitigating factors.
Mr Farley had asked for any suspension to be postponed to September, to allow him to act in another case on which he was instructed, but the tribunal said there was “sufficient time for another representative to get involved in that case without unduly prejudicing or worrying that client”.
Sara Jagger, director of professional conduct at the Bar Standards Board, said: “The tribunal’s decision to suspend Mr Farley serves as another warning to barristers of the serious consequences that can result from practising without a valid practising certificate.”