The Memo: Barrister who dozed off during inquest cleared of professional misconduct

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Barrister who dozed off during inquest cleared of professional misconduct

Rita McGonigle - 20 May 2024

The barrister in question, Ramya Nagesh, is a member of 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square and regularly acts in professional discipline proceedings. She has previously taken part in major inquests such as Hillsborough and Grenfell. However, the tables turned in December 2022, when she was accused by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) of professional misconduct for wasting a courts time. Nagesh fell asleep during a virtual hearing when she was supposed to be delivering evidence on behalf of a nurse witness in Wales. The reason for Nagesh handling the hearing remotely was due to her taking part in a separate six-week inquest in Stockport. 

In Nagesh’s tribunal, it was stated that she fell asleep after eating a baked potato during the 45-minute lunch break. The coroner had repeated three times that the inquest would reconvene at 1.30pm, but Nagesh rejoined the meeting almost 15 minutes late. To make matters worse, Nagesh turned her camera off and fell asleep for a second time and for almost two hoursIt was at this point that the coroner realised that she was not present as she continually failed to respond. All attempts from legal clerks, her solicitors and the coroners court to locate her via text, phone or email were to no avail. Nagesh initially suggested that a problem with the internet may have been the cause of her absence but later admitted that she was, in fact, asleep.  

Nagesh has since been cleared of any wrongdoing, putting the incident down to a cocktail of a sleep disorder, a vitamin D deficiency and a recent Covid infection. Nagesh has no previous disciplinaries against her, and her defence lawyer, Neil Sheldon KC, highlights that the incident would have been treated with much more sympathy had the incident had taken place in person. The example given during the tribunal was that she is in no more breach of conduct than a diabetic having a hypoglycaemic attack during a hearing. Nagesh added that she was in a ‘fog’, a common symptom of extreme fatigue. 

This incident begs an important issue about the wellbeing of barristers and solicitors in the UK. LawCare has stated that over half of legal professionals are getting far less than the recommended amount of sleep, and 69% have reportedly experienced mental-ill health. Vanessa Ford, senior partner and mother of two, also tragically passed away this year and was said to be working 18-hour days in the lead up to a deal closing 

Despite being cleared, it’s likely that this will leave a mark on Nagesh’s legal careerAccording to her lawyer, the incident has overshadowed major milestones in her life that happened over the 18-month tribunal, such as her wedding day and the birth of her child. This may just be another unfortunate reminder of the mounting pressure legal professionals face, and the potential consequences when it does surface.