John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Suspended former Bolton Law Society president back in practice with conditions

Suspended former Bolton Law Society president back in practice with conditions


Tribunal had found solicitor a ‘fundamentally decent man' who had acted ‘stupidly'

The former president of the Bolton Law Society, suspended for two years in July 2015 for account rules breaches, has been allowed back in practice subject to conditions.

Jeremy Simon Barker has been working as a consultant at Joe Egan Solicitors, the firm run by the current Law Society president, since his own firm closed down, subject to a series of conditions.

The 61-year-old solicitor qualified in 1980 after training with fellow Boltonian Egan, who succeeded Barker as president of the Bolton Law Society. Barker is now listed on JE Solicitors website as one the firm’s solicitors.

Egan gave character witness evidence during Barker’s Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal trial, saying the solicitor had perhaps been “rather foolish”. Egan, who once practised as a criminal lawyer, said “there might have been stupidity, naiveté, and recklessness, but not dishonesty” on Barker’s part. If he had thought Barker was dishonest, he said, he would not have permitted him to be a consultant of the firm.

For two and half years, Barker had kept his firm going by transferring a total of £114,842 from the client account to the office account. The 61 improper transfers, he told the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s investigating officer, were made because “in common with many other small firms on the ‘high street’ trading conditions have been tougher, particularly in the last 30 months or so’.

Barker explained at the time that the money was used to cover cash flow issues and was usually repaid within a few days. “No client ledgers have been falsified” and “no client has suffered any financial harm, or indeed any sort of harm”, he said.

The SDT cleared Barker of dishonesty and said “his motivation in making improper transfers had been to avoid breaching the office account overdraft limit and his motivation for introducing his own money via a credit card into client account and then transferring it to office account was to keep the firm afloat pending receipt of payments from the legal aid authorities”.

The tribunal noted that Barker “could not have been more open and frank” during the investigation, and that “overall he presented as fundamentally decent man who as his character witnesses said had acted stupidly”.

The latest conditions on Barker’s practising certificate, published on 21 July, prevent him from becoming a manager or owner of a law firm, or to have his own firm again, without the SRA’s prior approval. He cannot have sole financial responsibility, including signing cheques or authorising transfers, nor can he be a compliance officer in either an SRA regulated or not SRA-regulated firm.

Jean-Yves Gilg, editor-in-chief | @jeanyvesgilg