Any barrister who has spent 8 hours lurking around court only to be adjourned off because the Court hasn’t got any judges, or the cat has eaten the CPS’ file, or any other pointless reason, all for the princely sum of £0.00 would wonder why on earth anyone would want to pretend to be a barrister.
But some do. Monika Juneja, formerly a Conservative councillor for Burpham Ward on Guildford Council did. And on 11th May 2015 she paid the price for this when she pleaded guilty to this, as well as three charges of fraud and one of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception. She will be sentenced later.
What did she do?
According to the BBC, “Offences she admitted included giving false qualifications to Bromley Council, and constructing false letters from the University of Greenwich and the BPP Law School outlining qualifications she did not hold, between July 2000 and May 2014.
The 36-year-old had denied three other counts of fraud, which related to providing recruitment agencies with untrue or misleading information about her CV“.
What’s the offence?
It seems that much of the offending relates to faking qualifications – straightforward instances of dishonesty in effect. The issue in relation to calling yourself a barrister is a lot more complicated.
It is a criminal offence (under s181 Legal Service Act 2007) to :
(a) wilfully to pretend to be a barrister, or
(b) with the intention of implying falsely that that person is a barrister to take or use any name, title or description
Presumably Ms Juneja fell foul of the second point. The offence is either way, with a maximum sentence of 2 years.
What’s the big deal?
Well, I’m not sure. Let’s leave aside the fake references etc, which is obviously wrong.
There are other offences in the Legal Service Act 2007 where people act as a barrister where they are not entitled to. That, I can see, is more serious – you are acting as a barrister when you do not have the qualifications (and therefore also the insurance or the regulation) of an actual barrister.
It is not a criminal offence to call yourself a lawyer, whatever your background. Given that Ms Juneja had completed the Bar Vocational Course (not the BPTC), all she had to do before being called to the bar was eat 12 dinners (if you’re not a lawyer, you’re probably think I’m taking the piss. I’m not).
Ms Juneja had therefore done all the hard part of qualifying to be a barrister (a non-practising one). It is not that she was some cowboy pretending to be a lawyer when she had no idea what she was doing.
And context is important – if she used it as a description when applying for a legal job, it would be misleading (although any employer in that field would know the position). If it’s on a council declaration, I’m not sure that what she did was that wrong.
As to the rest of the charges, as stated, that is a different matter – faking letters and qualifications is clearly serious enough to merit a prosecution.
We will come back to this when we have a clearer idea of the facts, and what the sentence is …