Friday, 7 March 2014

The sad case of Mr O'Riordan: the man who tried to cheer up his mother by lying about his school

You might have seen something about this case in the news. Dennis O'Riordan got a 2:1 from East Anglia and became a barrister. He didn't get a tenancy immediately, so he started (but did not complete) some post-graduate study at Oxford. He then went on to have a pretty successful career in financial law.

However, his CV claimed that he had been to Radley, then obtained a First from East Anglia, a First in a BA and in a BCL from Oxford, a DPhil, the Eldon Scholarship (I had an argument with Lord Hoffmann about the right to silence in my own, unsuccessful, attempt at an Eldon Scholarship), a Masters in Law from Harvard and that he had been called to the Irish and New York Bars. None of that was true. (More below)

On finding out all that, the Bar Standards Board tried to have him struck off for dishonesty. The Tribunal decided instead (by 3 votes to 2) to suspend him, accepting Mr O'Riordan's mitigation that he had been motivated "not by considerations of career advancement but to make his mother, from whom he had been estranged for many years following the revelation of his homosexuality and who was by now in poor health, proud of him. He felt a sense of educational inadequacy, particularly in comparison with his cousins who had attended Radley College and Oxford University. When his mother died in May 2007, he felt unable to remove the false claims which by then had been included in a number of websites. An important detail of his mitigation was that no further false claims were invented post 2007."

It came to light after the Tribunal's decision that Mr O'Riordan had produced an expert report in 2012 (on a swap agreement for use in matrimonial proceedings) in which he claimed that his DPhil was on the "law in relation to financial derivative arrangements". That was a false claim invented after 2007, i.e. it undermined his story about his mother's hurt feelings, and so, on appeal, Mr O'Riordan was disbarred.

The most interesting - and revealing - part of this whole sad story is the school bit. I can just about imagine that someone might think that their mother's sadness about their private life could be lessened by hearing that they have acquired a whole raft of superfluous degrees. But surely Mr O'Riordan's mother must have known what school he had gone to? If she had spent time surfing the web to look at his online CV, would she have been that pleased with what she saw?

The judge doesn't discuss this point. Indeed, if you read the judgment, you will see that the judge does not bother to tell us what school Mr O'Riordan did go to: all we know is that it wasn't Radley. There is a certain delicacy in that, probably not unconnected with the impulse that made Mr O'Riordan lie about it in the first place. Poor Mr O'Riordan, by all accounts a good lawyer, has been disbarred and disgraced. But there is no need for us to know the full horror of his actual schooling.

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