A barrister who compensated a client just two hours before facing the bar disciplinary tribunal has avoided suspension, instead receiving a £2,000 fine and a reprimand.
Ian Wheaton, a member of Lincoln’s Inn, failed to comply with an order by the legal ombudsman to pay two clients £350 and £600 respectively.
In the first case 18 months elapsed before Wheaton transferred the money, and in the second case 12 months elapsed. At the time of the barrister’s first hearing, both payments remained outstanding.
In the first hearing, the tribunal unanimously found that Wheaton behaved in a way that was likely to diminish the trust the public places in the profession. It also found he failed to co-operate with his regulator and failed to take reasonable steps to manage his practice competently.
Just two hours before his second hearing – which was to do with sanctions – at 07.28 in the morning, Wheaton transferred £350 to the relevant client. He had paid his other client by postal order the day before.
According to the judgment, Wheaton submitted that a fine was now appropriate because he had paid the sums and had made serious attempts to comply.
The judgment stated: ‘To say that the payments were made at the eleventh hour was an understatement. There was a lack of pro-active attempts to comply with the ombudsman’s directions.’ The tribunal also noted that Wheaton had £5,000 or disposable income per month and could always have made the payments.
According to the judgment, ‘the tribunal wanted to say that the facts commended themselves to a suspension’. It added, however, that ‘at the eleventh hour, compliance had been achieved’. There were also no previous adverse findings against the barrister.
Wheaton was eventually fined £2,000 and, by way of reprimand, the tribunal said it was ‘appalled’ by his behaviour.