We have frequently looked at cases of ‘dodgy lawyers’ – those that find themselves on the wrong side of the dock (start here for a QC who found himself in prison).
On 27th October 2016 we had another addition to that particular ‘rogues gallery’ – newly qualified (but probably soon to be ex-) solicitor Steven Barker.
Steven Barker lived near Southampton but was working for insurance company Ageas on the Isle of Wight. He would drive to Southsea and, leaving his car there, get a hovercraft to his office.
This area requires a parking permit. Mr Barker had one last summer but it seems that that when that ran out, due to health and financial difficulties (as he told the Court), he decided to fraudulently change the old one.
You can see the amended permit above – it’s not particularly sophisticated, being done with a felt tip pen to change the ‘5’ in the ‘2015’ expiry date to a 6.
He was caught parking with the altered permit on the 7th and 15th October and the 3rd and 4th November, which gave rise to four charges of fraud.
It seems that at some point Mr Barker got a penalty charge notice, which he appealed. It is not clear if that was one of the above dates or not, but it is perhaps surprisingly didn’t seem to deter Mr Barker.
When he was caught, it seems that he told the Council that the permit was water damaged, which is why he altered it (it isn’t quite clear why this means he would have changed it to a different date however).
He then said that he had parked in other roads (where presumably a permit was not required), but pleaded guilty earlier this year.
On 26th October 2016 he was sentenced in the Crown Court to 6 months imprisonment, suspended for 2 years on the condition of undertaking 150 hours unpaid work. There was also an order for £986 costs, as well as a victim’s surcharge.
What to make of the sentence? The Sentencing Guidelines for Fraud are the starting point – see page 6. It does not quite fall neatly into a category there, but on the face of it is Culpability B, and presumably Category 5 as the cost of a parking permit (which is the amount of the value of the fraud) must be under £5,000.
This would give a starting point, and a range, of a noncustodial sentence. Why did Mr Barker get so much more?
It’s not clear. The Judge said, in sentencing, “Effectively you are ruined as far as being a solicitor is concerned. It’s highly unlikely you will retain that position.’
‘The public expect a higher standard of honesty and integrity from members of the profession and this matter means that you plainly fail to achieve the high standard expected“.
All that is true, and is the reason why Mr Barker will almost certainly get struck off – the legal regulators are not very forgiving of dishonesty. But it doesn’t explain the sentence here.
The fact that Mr Barker was a trainee solicitor does not impact on his culpability – it wasn’t a breach of trust in any real sense. The breach of trust that the public has in solicitors in general does not apply – that’s what the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is for.
If anything, the fact that he is probably finished in his chosen career (for which he may well have tens of thousands of pounds of debt with no means of repaying) is, if anything, a mitigating feature. We would have thought a Community Order would have been the most that would have been needed in a case such as this.
If it is culpability B, this would equate to defrauding another of about £25,000. Even it is culpability A, it is still the sort of sentence that one would expect for a fraud of £3-4,000.
It is likely that Mr Barker may just leave it and not try to appeal, as he didn’t go to prison (which was presumably the main concern at that point), but we will keep an eye on it.
It may be, of course, that there was more to it than is reported and the sentence was well deserved, or at least in the range of what on would expect.