Black barristers evicted after rent dispute

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ONE OF Britain's oldest and most influential groups of black barristers has been evicted after allegedly running up rent arrears of pounds 38,500.

Chambers used by about 15 barristers have been repossessed after the owners, who claim they are owed 18 months' rent, obtained a court order.

The head of the chambers at 9 Stone Buildings, Lincoln's Inn, central London, is now being threatened with bankruptcy unless the money and court costs are paid.

A group representing black lawyers yesterday described the eviction as unnecessary and argued that several other chambers were being allowed to practise despite also owing large sums of money.

Bailiffs were sent into the chambers last Friday and removed two barristers before taking possession of the property. This followed lengthy court action and almost two years of negotiations.

The chambers have become a well-known place of employment and training. Nearly half of Britain's 460 black barristers have practised at the chambers since they were established in 1969.

The chambers started to fall behind with the rent about two years ago, according to Captain Malcolm Carver, the under-treasurer of Lincoln's Inn, which owns the building. Despite agreeing a repayment package, they again fell behind, Capt Carver said. After several court appearances, Lincoln's Inn won its application and was awarded pounds 5,500 costs.

Capt Carver denied allegations that they had been 'heavy handed' and had given other chambers preferential treatment. 'All the other chambers in a similar position have kept up their payments,' he said.

Makbool Javaid, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, said the arrears happened because of delays in payment and the recession. 'This chamber has an historical position in the development of the black bar and is a symbol of the achievements of black lawyers. Was it really necessary for the Inn to act in such a harsh manner? They have used a sledgehammer to crack a nut.'

Yosefaly Serugo-Lugo, in charge of the chambers, said they had fallen behind with the rent because they were owed thousands of pounds from barristers who had left.

'This profession is about principles but I feel money is the main consideration in this case. We offered to pay back the rent owed, but nothing seemed acceptable.'