Barrister suspended for six months for lending client cash

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Dec 18, 2017
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Roy Headlam could not have been sure the money was spent appropriately, a disciplinary panel was told

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A barrister has been suspended for six months after he gave a client thousands of pounds for food, clothes and bills in what he thought was an attempt to get her life on track.  

Roy Headlam — who was once said to be one of the highest-paid legal aid lawyers in the country — admitted that he had been naïve when he handed over more than £2,000 to his client, who had a serious drug addiction.

Regulators found that Headlam’s behaviour failed to maintain his independence and was “likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public place in the profession”.

The barrister has practised for 35 years and has routinely appeared in serious criminal cases at the Old Bailey. He was said to have earned nearly £800,000 a year in the past.

Last week Headlam — of Furnival Chambers in the City of London — was suspended and fined £1,250, having admitted to breaching professional rules at a disciplinary tribunal in October. He acknowledged that in late 2013 and early 2014 he had given his client a total of about £2,300 in cash and a cheque in an attempt to help her “turn her life around”.

He told the tribunal that he thought he was helping his cash-strapped client with groceries, electricity bills and college course fees, but the panel heard that she was a manipulative drug addict and there was no guarantee that she was not using the money to buy drugs.

Headlam was also criticised in the tribunal’s ruling for having failed to be “open and co-operative” with his regulatory body, the Bar Standards Board (BSB). The panel found that between November 2015 and October 2016, Headlam failed to co-operate with the BSB in relation to the investigation into his conduct.

The authorities also found Headlam guilty of conduct that was discreditable to a barrister, after he had told the BSB in 2013 that he had no bank account of any kind.

In mitigation, the tribunal was told that while it was fair to criticise his actions as being “stupid, naïve, or gullible”, Headlam maintained that he had not been dishonest. At the October hearing, the tribunal agreed with Headlam on that point and dismissed a charge that had acted without honesty and integrity.

Speaking after the tribunal’s sentence, Sara Jagger, the BSB’s director  of professional conduct, said: “The tribunal stated that barristers giving money to clients whom they are representing is a serious matter, because it calls into question their ability to maintain their independence and the confidence the public have in barristers — two of the core duties of being a barrister.”

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