On 11th February, Robin Pershad QC was convicted of VAT fraud to the tune of about £600,000. We have covered it in more detail here. Although he has not been sentenced, it is very clear that it is a serious offence and he will be sent to prison. He will also be ‘disbarred’ by the Bar Standards Board – which means that he will no longer be able to practise as a lawyer.
It is unlikely that he will ever be able to practise as a lawyer again, but will he still be a QC, or will he lose that as well?
What is a QC?
Historically, a QC (Queen’s Counsel), or KC (King’s Counsel) when the monarch is male, were the monarch’s legal officers (Attorney-General and Solicitor-General and the King’s Serjeants). It gradually developed into being a ‘kitemark’ awarded to the top 10% of so of advocates who could appear before the higher courts (now including solicitors as well as barristers).
A QC is no longer appointed by the Queen or by the Government, but by an independent panel, in a process that is supposed to be transparent and based on merit (although they are still appointed in the name of the Queen).
There is still a declaration to be taken when someone becomes a QC, along the lines of – “I, do sincerely promise and declare that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second and all whom I may lawfully be called upon to serve in the office of one of Her Majesty’s Counsel learned in the Law according to the best of my skill and understanding” (it’s not entirely clear if that’s still the declaration).
So, can you lose the title?
It’s clear that a QC will remain a QC even if they are no longer a lawyer in practice. As to whether someone can be stripped of their title? We’d suggest that it’s not entirely clear. This maybe because the issue has never arise as Mr Pershad is, as far as we know, the only QC to have been convicted or an offence in the Crown Court.
A QC will be appointed by ‘letters patent’. Although we’ve never seen one (any QC out there is welcome to scan and send us a copy), these seem to be for life. With many honours, there is a caveat when the honour is granted that “cancel and annul” it and there is an Honour’s Forfeiture Committee that meets occasionally to do so. There have been twenty or so people stripped of them this way.
The title of QC however is not the same as an honour (and is appointed differently) and so this would not apply. The Queen can sack someone from the Privy Council (it happened to Elliot Morely* after the expenses scandal and would presumably have happened to Chris Huhne had he not voluntarily resigned). Again however, the situation with the Privy Council is different.
Letters patent can be void if the Queen has been misled, but it is not clear whether an individual grant can be discharged by the Queen, or by a subsequent Order.
There is undoubtedly someone out there will know the answer in an instant, so feel free to get in touch. We would suggest, however, the Mr Pershad will still be able to use the letters QC after his name, but may feel that it’s probably not appropriate. As we’ve said above, he won’t be practicing as a lawyer any time soon, if ever again.
Since this was published, Kyle McDonald, an Australian barrister got in touch to tell us of the case of Marcus Einfeld, an Australian QC who was disbarred and stripped of his title after pleading guilty to two offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice (the perjury being lying on oath about who was driving his car in order to avoid a potential speeding ban – obviously, that would never happen in this country!). He was not only a silk, but had been made a Judge (although he had retired by the time of his conviction). The sentencing hearing is here.
It seems that the Governor of New South Wales revoked the letters patent that appointed Mr Einfeld a QC on 26th November 2009. Prior to this, Mr Einfeld was (unsurprisingly) struck off by the Supreme Court of New South Wales (Re Einfeld  NSWCA 255 – order made on 23rd July 2009). No mention is made there of the ability of the Court to regulate his ‘commission’ as a QC. The sentencing appeal confirms that this is what happened. I’ve not been able to find the order of the Governor so as to see if it has a statutory basis, or how exactly it was achieved.
There appears to be two other Australian QC who have met the same fate – Clarrie Stevens QC, who had failed to pay 19 years worth of tax, and John Cummins QC, who lost his due to failing to file a tax return for an impressive 45 years (what is it with QCs and tax?).
Mr McDonald also pointed us to the Australian case of Marks v Commonwealth  HCA 45. This deals with the ability of a soldier to resign his commission. The position of such a person is different to that of a QC, but is worth reading.
The case of R v Kempe 12 Mod 77 (1697) confirms that an individual who has been granted an office such as QC can resign their office and have the Crown revoke it as a consequence. It doesn’t (to my mind) determine the question of whether the Queen can unilaterally revoke Mr Pershad’s status. As it is an ‘office under the crown’ granted by letters patent, we would tentatively suggest that the Queen could issue a revocation of the letters patent. I imagine that everyone would rather Mr Perhsad voluntarily surrender, or undertake not to use, the title, as it sets a tricky precedence if someone can have their QC status revoked (particularly given the current issues over QASA). We will have to see …
*This originally referred to Mr Morley as ‘Eric’ rather than ‘Elliot’. Apologies.