Solicitor fined for client loan is fined again for misleading SDT

SDT: Clients said solicitor had helped them

A solicitor fined £20,000 five years ago by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for loaning a client money at 60% APR, has been fined a further £30,000 for misleading the SDT about other loans and acting for clients despite conflicts of interest.

However, the tribunal dismissed most of the allegations against Richard Gregory Barca, saying there was no evidence he actually heard the “fleeting” submission made by his KC.

Mr Barca, admitted in 1986, is the head of London firm Wilson Barca.

In March 2019, the SDT heard that he had acted for ‘JWB’, who was in financial difficulties and facing possession proceedings brought by her mortgage lender. He loaned her £27,000 through a company he owned at an interest rate of 60% in 2011. She did not take independent legal advice.

JWB defaulted and in December 2012 Mr Barca repossessed her house and sold it just over a year later for £235,000. He received nearly £77,000 and her mortgage lender most of the rest.

The SDT found, among other things, that Mr Barca had allowed his independence to be compromised, acted where there was a clear conflict of interest and not acted with integrity.

This year’s disciplinary hearing heard that Mr Barca had allowed his counsel, Geoffrey Williams KC, to tell the 2019 tribunal: “The case of JWB goes back eight years… nothing of a similar nature has arisen in all those years, and so the tribunal can properly conclude that there is no risk of repetition.”

In fact, he had loaned money to three other clients in similar circumstances. This meant the submission was misleading, although the tribunal “made no criticism of Mr Williams KC”.

But it was “a fleeting submission during the course of Mr Williams’ plea in mitigation” and there was “no evidence” that Mr Barca had actually heard it as there were distractions during the hearing.

“Even if he had, there was no evidence that he considered the submission to be wrong or misleading such that he should have taken steps to correct it.” Allegations that other comments had been misleading were rejected.

The SDT went on to find significant risks of own-client conflicts from Mr Barca entering financial relationships with five different clients, as he could later pursue the monies owed.

But it rejected allegations of lack of integrity, recklessness and dishonesty against Mr Barca.

“It was clear that prior to the 2019 proceedings, Mr Barca had considered that advising clients to obtain independent legal advice was sufficient. Post 2019, he considered that insisting that any client take independent legal advice would suffice.

“Whilst the tribunal agreed that advising clients to take independent legal advice could not negate compliance with rule 3.4, it was an indicator, in this case, of Mr Barca’s attempt to comply with his regulatory obligations following the 2019 proceedings.”

On sanction, the SDT considered that Mr Barca was “motivated by his desire to assist his clients” and by “the possibility of personal gain”.

However, there was no evidence of direct harm to his clients. “Indeed, his clients had provided witness statements and given evidence stating that his conduct had assisted them during their times of need.”

The tribunal assessed Mr Barca’s conduct as “very serious in all the circumstances”, notwithstanding that there was no lack of integrity. He was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,000.

This was Mr Barca’s third appearance before the SDT. He was reprimanded in 2015 for asking an opposing solicitor in an email to behave “like a normal person instead of a complete plonker”.

In 2021, he was ordered by an employment tribunal to pay £41,500 to a paralegal he subjected to foul-mouthed tirades.

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