As the regulator of barristers in England and Wales, it is the job of the Bar Standards Board to handle complaints against members of the Bar and take disciplinary action if appropriate. However, sometimes they learn of people who are deliberately pretending to be barristers when they are not – an act which is a serious criminal offence.
In March last year Amir Saleem was sentenced to four years and four months for a string of deception-related offences, including pretending to be a barrister. Among the seven criminal charges to which Mr Saleem pleaded guilty was carrying out a "reserved legal activity" at an earlier hearing. A reserved legal activity is something that only a lawyer, who is authorised to do so, can do on behalf of clients.
During his trial it was revealed that Mr Saleem had met a lady online via a dating website, and told her that he was a barrister who could help with a legal issue she had and represent her in court. It was only after he was talking to another barrister at court – claiming he was also a brain surgeon – when concerns about his behaviour were raised and he was investigated.
It is against the law for someone to (deliberately or wilfully) pretend to be a barrister or to use any name, title, or description that makes it seem as though they are a barrister when they are not.
If you are not sure if the person you are dealing with is actually a practising barrister, you can find out by searching The Barristers' Register, available on the Bar Standards Board's Direct Access Portal. This provides a list of barristers who are permitted to carry out legal services when referring to themselves as barristers. If your search does not produce any matching results, you should contact the Bar Council (via firstname.lastname@example.org), and they will conduct further checks for you.
If you learn that the person you are dealing with is pretending to be a barrister, you should contact the police and let the Bar Standards Board (BSB) know. In some cases the BSB will refer matters to the police about people pretending to be a barrister. We want to ensure people make the right decisions and do not fall victim to scams. Frequently, these come in the form of fraudulent emails – sometimes dishonestly using the names of real barristers or barristers' chambers and citing phoney qualifications. They are designed to trick people into giving money to criminals, posing as barristers.
Such emails often ask the recipient for personal details like:
- your bank account details;
- your date of birth; and
- log-in details to bank accounts or other online accounts
Or they might ask you to send money in advance. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you have been targeted by a scam email, do not give out any money or personal details up front. You should contact the police if you believe you have fallen victim to a scam. If you would like further advice or information, please visit Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre. If you are based outside of the UK, please contact your local law enforcement agency.