One firm said it was “disappointed at the extent of his disability” while the other complained that he was dressed inappropriately for court.
Mr Horan, was presented with an award from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, last Saturday for his “outstanding contribution to pro bono work in the community.”
Mr Horan, who works in the leading London human rights chambers Cloisters, has considered bringing discrimination action against the firms but believes such a high-profile case would damage his career.
He suffered a stroke on Millennium Eve which left him partially paralysed on his left side. “In the afternoon, I went to bed because I was feeling strange. Later in the evening I was having a drink with my cousin when I realised my left arm wasn’t working. When I tried to speak my voice wasn’t working either.”
He spent six weeks in hospital in London. “At first, the doctors didn’t know if I would live and I was convinced I was going to die,” he said. Mr Horan soon resumed his career. But this time he wanted to use his legal knowledge to work free in the community. “The money just wasn’t important any more. I now had different ambitions.”
When the law firms contacted his chambers asking for a reduction in his fees because of his disability he said it made him even more determined to do more free work, acting for applicants and employees, rather than the respondent companies. “I felt I could not trust respondent solicitors.”
Before his stroke, Mr Horan was earning £100,000 a year. Last year, he earned £15,000 but expects this to rise to £40,000 in the next year.
When he won the Bar’s most prestigious honour for lawyers who act pro bono publico, free and for the public good, the Attorney General said Mr Horan was “chosen for his exceptional and inspirational commitment”. He added: “We hope John’s example will encourage more barristers to get involved”.
Mr Horan, who was nominated for the award by the Islington Law Centre, said he felt it was important he used his advocacy skills to raise disability issues in the court.