Disbarred barrister faces jail for contempt over work as McKenzie Friend

Notting Hill Genesis: Housing association applied to commit McCarthy for contempt

A disbarred barrister is facing jail for contempt of court after failing to comply with a court order relating to allegations of misconduct while acting as a McKenzie Friend.

His Honour Judge Roberts in Central London County Court last month gave Katrina McCarthy one last chance to comply with an order to disclose her assets after being made subject to a freezing order, but it was confirmed this week that she has not done so.

The committal application was made by housing association Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) in support of its claim against Ms McCarthy for inducing the breach of contract of one of its tenants.

NHG claims that Ms McCarthy tortiously induced him to start paying his rent directly into her own bank account on the basis that he had a disrepair claim and was not liable to pay rent while it was ongoing. It also claims equitable remedies in respect of alleged breaches of trust.

She told the tenant that she would then transfer the money into a ‘court rent account’ so that he could ‘offset’ his rent in the meantime. In fact, HHJ Roberts said, Ms McCarthy stole £15,000 from him.

The tenant ceased paying rent in 2019 and, by the time a possession order was obtained against him in June on mandatory grounds, he was in arrears of over £23,000, his weekly rent being £166.

It was only after the possession hearing, at which the tenant was represented by Ms McCarthy as his McKenzie Friend, that NHG discovered what had been happening.

The freezing injunction was sought shortly afterwards, with His Honour Judge Dight ordering her to disclose to NHG’s solicitors – Winckworth Sherwood – all of her assets exceeding £250 and swear and serve an affidavit to that effect. The order contained a penal notice.

Ms McCarthy did not comply and NHG applied to commit her for contempt. In September, the court issued a bench warrant to ensure her attendance at last month’s hearing but it had not been executed by then and she did not attend.

HHJ Roberts decided to continue in her absence, something only done in exceptional circumstances.

He cited several reasons, including that “this is not a case where there can be any possible defence”; her breach was a “flagrant and deliberate contempt of court” and she failed even to attempt to comply.

Ms McCarthy had been served and was aware of the hearings she had missed. “It is entirely unknown when the defendant will be arrested and there needs to be finality to this committal application,” the judge added.

HHJ Roberts found that “the imposition of a sentence is desirable to punish the defendant for her sustained breaches of the order”.

Ms McCarthy had taken advantage of the tenant for her own financial gain and not co-operated “at all” with NHG, while there was “no acceptance of responsibility, no apology, no contrition”.

The judge concluded by sentencing her for nine months in jail but suspended it for 14 days to give Ms McCarthy one last chance to comply.

Liam Hale, a legal director at Winckworth Sherwood, told Legal Futures this week: “I can confirm that I have not had a response from Ms McCarthy as ordered by HHJ Roberts on 11 October 2023. I have therefore provided the court with a statement to this effect and requested that the custodial sentence be activated.”

Ms McCarthy, called in 2004, was disbarred in 2016 after a Bar disciplinary tribunal found that she operated as a barrister for five months to March 2015 without a practising certificate.

During that time, she appeared for clients in court, on one occasion lying to the judge that she had been instructed by solicitors and would be able to provide the court with a practising certificate within seven days. She also failed to co-operate with the Bar Standards Board.

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