The Bar’s disciplinary tribunal was right to fine the head of a pupillage committee at a London chambers that ignored 98 online applications, the Visitors to the Inns of Court have ruled.
The Visitors said that it was proven that Benjamin Conlon, head of the pupillage committee at 3 Temple Gardens, “did not understand” the Bar’s Online Pupillage Application System (OLPAS), since replaced by the Pupillage Portal.
It was also proven, to a criminal standard of proof, that Mr Conlon did not download the applications nor did he take “any other material steps” to conduct the chambers recruitment process in line with OLPAS.
The Visitors said that by the end of August 2006, when Mr Conlon returned from holiday, “it must have been clear to him that something had gone awry” and that applicants had tried to apply to chambers through the OLPAS system.
Following three non-OLPAS offers later made by Mr Conlon – for each of which he applied to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to waive its pupillage advertising requirements – the BSB launched an investigation into pupillages at 3 Temple Gardens.
The BSB visited chambers in January 2007 to investigate the three offers. In a report, the board concluded that the three pupillages should not be registered, particularly on the grounds that the 98 online applications had not been considered.
Delivering judgment in Conlon and others v the Bar Standards Board, Mrs Justice Asplin and two other Visitors said the disciplinary tribunal found Mr Conlon guilty of professional misconduct, fined him £1,000 and ordered him to pay costs of £2,390 by the disciplinary tribunal.
“In order to constitute professional misconduct, Mr Conlon’s failures must be serious,” the Visitors said. “We have no hesitation in saying that they were.”
They dismissed Mr Conlon’s appeal against conviction, saying he had taken no steps to educate himself about OLPAS.
Dismissing his appeal against sentence, the Visitors said: “This is a case where there was a consistent and lengthy failure to comply with the recruitment requirements.
“Mr Conlon failed to identify his obligations before or while undertaking his role as head of the pupillage committee and failed to take reasonable steps to rectify his failings after the August 2006 [chamber’s management committee] meeting, when it must have been clear that something had gone badly wrong.”
However, the tribunal did accept the appeals by the joint heads of chambers at the time, Paul Williams and Donald Gordon, who were also found guilty of professional misconduct for failing to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to ensure that proper arrangements were in place for dealing with pupils. The Visitors ruled that they did take reasonable steps. Though the reprimand handed to Mr Williams by the tribunal fell as a result, Mr Gordon did not appeal against the same sanction.