Pupil who ripped off others’ work was suffering from mental illness

Pupil: Deceit was not calculated

The pupil barrister who passed off other people’s work as his own on three occasions avoided disbarment because he was suffering from a serious mental illness exacerbated by lockdown.

We reported on Monday that Mr P* had also lied about his conduct to the head of his chambers’ pupillage committee.

A Bar disciplinary tribunal ruled last week that the Bar Standards Board should not issue a practising certificate to him before 14 December 2025.

Further, he has to complete a further six months of pupillage before any practising certificate can be issued, such pupillage not to start within two years of the same date.

The usual sanction for dishonesty is disbarment unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the full ruling of the tribunal, published yesterday, showed that there were some in this case.

The tribunal recorded that Mr P had been a junior solicitor working as a litigator at a magic circle law firm before deciding to switch to the Bar.

His pupillage began in October 2020 and the tribunal noted that “throughout his time in chambers, the quality of the work that he honestly produced was entirely satisfactory”.

However, medical evidence showed that he had been referred to a psychiatrist, who prescribed anti-depressants in January 2021.

“At the time, the second lockdown was in force and Mr P, who lived alone, was leading an isolated life. He was going into chambers but not many other people were, and he was unable, for reasons that were no one’s fault, to participate in the normal personal and professional interactions that would ordinarily have been open to him.”

The easing of lockdown did not help because he was becoming increasingly ill.

“He had begun obsessively overworking, putting in 16-to-18-hour days when there was no need. He was having paranoid delusions that his neighbours meant him harm; he had constant feelings of worthlessness and that he did not belong in chambers.

“By April and May, he was hearing voices telling him that he was worthless and would die if he did not pass pupillage. By mid-May, very much the time with which we are concerned, he was hallucinating that his neighbours were trying to kill him and that people in chambers were out to do him physical harm.”

No one in chambers would have known it, the tribunal continued, but it was “beyond doubt” that Mr P was suffering from a serious mental disorder.

His condition worsened after the interview in chambers and he was admitted to hospital for a month. The tribunal stressed that there was no blame on the chambers or his interviewer for what happened.

The tribunal said it accepted that Mr P had not been “calculatedly deceitful” – rather, his mental illness had “impelled him to behave in a way that was entirely out of character when well”.

It received many testimonials to his competence and probity, a number of which also referred to how “disturbingly changed” he was in early 2021.

“It is plain to us that, had he not been as ill as he was, it is vanishingly unlikely that the behaviour that he engaged in in May and June 2021 would have occurred.”

The tribunal said Mr P was now back working at the same solicitors as before. “They are fully aware of what has happened and his condition is very much improved.” He is on medication and “actively seeking help”.

But it said the safeguards it imposed on him practising in future were necessary to ensure there was no risk of a recurrence.

* Given the circumstances of this case, we have decided to redact Mr P’s name.

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