Bar Standards Board v Dennis Thomas O'Riordan (2014)

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Visitors (Inns of Court) (Griffith Williams J) 5 February 2014
The Respondent, O, was a barrister who appeared before the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Inns of Court on 30 September 2013 following an investigation into allegations of misconduct.

It was alleged that he had engaged in conduct which was dishonest or otherwise discreditable to a barrister, in that his Curriculum Vitae included 9 false claims as to his qualifications. These claims included the institutions where he had studied, his qualifications and his professional memberships. This information had been published on the websites of his chambers and of his employer, and had been submitted by O to another set of chambers when he had applied to join them in November 2012.

In mitigation of his conduct, O submitted to the Disciplinary Tribunal that his motivation when initially making the false claims in 2002 had been to make his mother, with whom he had a poor relationship, proud. He further submitted that, by the time of his mother's death in 2007, the information had been published on several websites and that he felt unable to remove it.

He asserted that he had made no further false claims after 2007 and had not gained financially from his dishonesty. This mitigation was accepted by the Disciplinary Tribunal, which decided by a majority of 3:2 that the appropriate sanction would be suspension rather than disbarment. A 3 year suspension order was imposed.

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) applied for an extension of the allotted time period for appeal and for permission to adduce fresh evidence which had been unavailable at the time of the hearing before the Disciplinary Tribunal. The extension was granted by the Directions Judge.

The decision as to permission to adduce fresh evidence was however deferred for determination by the Visitors to the Inns of Court. The BSB submitted fresh evidence in its Petition of Appeal which undermined O's mitigation. The evidence showed that O had provided an Expert's Report on 10 September 2012, in which he had actively advanced false claims as to his qualifications in order to demonstrate his capability and potentially gain financial reparation if instructed to act as the expert in the case concerned. The BSB contended that, had the Disciplinary Tribunal been presented with the evidence prior to taking O's mitigation into account, it would have considered suspension unduly lenient.

Griffiths Williams J granted permission for the evidence to be adduced. He held that the fresh evidence would not have been apparent from the material filed by O for the hearing before the Disciplinary Tribunal. It was also not contested by O when it eventually came to light. He further affirmed the BSB's assertion that the majority decision regarding the appropriate sanction would have been different had the fresh evidence been available at the time of the hearing. The fresh evidence constituted an aggravating factor to be taken into account when determining O's sanction, and justified the substitution of the original suspension order for permanent disbarment.