Direct access barristers are no substitute for experienced solicitors, a judge has told a court, ruling that a woman was not advised on the proper process for appealing her council tax liability. 

In June last year a court upheld a bankruptcy order against Nkoyo Okon, after she, and the direct access barrister representing her, did not realise until too late that they were not following the correct procedure for appealing to the Valuation Tribunal.

Okon had sought to dispute her liability based on the facts, but found out only a week before her hearing that the court she was appealing in did not have jurisdiction.

According to the judgment this came as a ‘rude shock’ to her barrister, who then realised that her client might be ‘barking up the wrong tree’ and needed to apply to the Valuation Tribunal.

In Okon v London Borough of Lewisham, Mr Robin Hollington QC, sitting as deputy judge in the Chancery Division, said: ‘[Okon] was for extended periods a litigant in person. She was represented at hearings on an ad hoc basis by a relatively junior, albeit able, counsel on a direct access basis, but that is not a complete substitute for being represented by experienced solicitors.

‘She should have been advised that such an appeal was a prerequisite of any challenge by her to her underlying substantive liability for the council tax in question.’

Hollington overturned the ruling in June, as he said that Okon was not ‘substantially to blame’ for the delay in making the correct appeal.

Hollington also noted that both Croydon County Court (pictured) and the magistrates' court had ‘ample opportunity’ to advise her on what the correct appeal process should be.

He said the proposed appeal to the Valuation Tribunal was bona fide. He ruled that the bankruptcy orders be set aside and granted Okon permission to appeal.