By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal has chastised a fake attorney for asking it to dismiss the Bahamas Bar Council’s attempts to overturn a judge’s order that he be given legal credentials, when that very order was based on his own “dishonesty”.
The appellate court said Shavon Bethel “cannot be heard” to complain about any process to correct an order made pursuant to his false statements, when he has already benefited from that order by “failing to disclose his own dishonesty”.
Asserting that Bethel was “clearly less than honest” to the court, the appellate judges said if the court knew Bethel lied on his application to both the English and Bahamas Bar, the order “would never have been made”.
In any event, however, the appellate judges suggested that there is nothing in the Legal Profession Act nor the regulations made under that law that obliges the Bar Council to give its members those credentials in the first place.
The Court of Appeal’s stern words came as it granted the Bahamas Bar Association’s appeal of then-Senior Justice Jon Isaacs’ order that Bethel was entitled to receive a certificate of good standing and a Bar Association membership identification card.
According to the ruling, Bethel was called to the Bahamas Bar on August 14, 2013.
Bethel allegedly claimed to have been awarded an LLB law degree by the University of London. To back up this claim, it is said he produced fake degree certificates dated March and July 2005.
The claims were made in 2006, when he applied to become a student member of the Inner Temple and was also used when he was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 2013.
Bethel subsequently applied to the Bahamas Bar Association for a certificate of good standing and a bar identification card.
The documents Bethel requested are necessary for lawyers to practise in the Bahamas, particularly those who practise in the criminal courts. This is because of an apparent policy at police stations for only persons who possess a Bahamas Bar ID card can be allowed access to their clients.
However, having received no reply from the Bar Association, Bethel filed an application for judicial review, asking that the court grant him a declaration that he was entitled to receive the documents. At the end of the judicial review, on November 4, 2013, Justice Isaacs, who is now an appellate judge, granted declaratory relief in that he declared that Bethel was entitled to receive the documents in question.
However, the Bar Association would later obtain a letter from the University of London that asserted that a Master’s Degree in Law and a Bachelor’s Degree in Law presented from that institution were forgeries, information that did not come to the attention of the Bahamas Bar until a month after Justice Isaacs made the order.
According to the Court of Appeal, Bethel used the forged law degree to fraudulently gain admittance to the Bar of England and Wales and also used the same forged document to gain access to the Bahamas Bar.
The appellate judges noted that in his affidavit in support of the application for judicial review, Bethel asserted: “That I applied sat and passed all of the required examinations for admission to the Bar of England and Wales and ‘that on the 25th July, 2013 I was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple and presented with a certificate attesting the same.”
However, the Court of Appeal said what Bethel “failed to tell the court” was that “he was dishonest in his application to the Society of the Inner Temple and to the Bahamas Bar Council” when he said he was awarded a degree from the University of London on July 5, 2005.
“That was not true and he had never been awarded a degree by the University of London on that or any date as the disciplinary tribunal found,” the appellate judges said. “He was dishonest in his application for admission to both the English and Bahamas Bar.”
The Bahamas Bar Association consequently appealed Justice Isaacs’ decision on January 2, 2014.
In April 2015, Bethel was charged with deceit, perjury and possession of a false document. He applied to the Supreme Court seeking a permanent stay of the criminal proceedings, but on November 13, 2015, Justice Ian Winder dismissed the application.
Meanwhile, on November 2 and 3, 2015, Bethel “fully participated” in disciplinary proceedings in England over two charges of professional misconduct, as well as the appellate process in those disciplinary proceedings.
Bethel was ultimately found guilty of both charges and disbarred. The result of those proceedings was published on February 5, 2018.
On October 30, 2017, Bethel unsuccessfully appealed Justice Winder’s decision to the Court of Appeal. Bethel then tried to get permission to appeal Justice Winder’s decision to the Privy Council, but was denied permission by the London-based committee.
On January 31, 2019, Bethel applied to the Court of Appeal to strike out the Bar Association’s appeal of Justice Isaacs’ order for want of prosecution. The appeal was not struck out however, but instead heard “as a matter of urgency”.
In contesting the Bar Association’s appeal, Bethel argued that the appellate court should not hear the appeal or disturb Justice Isaacs’ order because the issue raised by the appeal was now “academic”.
The certificate of good standing and identification card issued by the Bar Council pursuant to Justice Isaacs’ order have since expired, and Bethel has not sought to renew them. Thus, Bethel argued that the issue raised by the Bar Council’s appeal was moot.
However, the appellate judges said the Bar Association’s appeal was not useless as “the court must be astute to protect its processes from abuse”.
Justice Isaacs’ November 4, 2013 judgement was set aside, and Bethel was ordered to pay the Bar Association the costs of not only the appeal, but also that of the judicial review proceedings that gave rise to the order.