Regulators are beneath strain to dish out greater than temporary suspensions

Between 19 and 22 January 2021, the bar disciplinary tribunal made skilled misconduct findings in opposition to four barristers, one on every day.

First came Dominic Woolard, who admitted to “undesirable conduct of a sexual nature” involving a junior feminine colleague, together with slapping her on the underside and pulling her on to his lap. He was fined £6,000.

Then there was Craig Charles Tipper, who additionally confessed to “intentional sexual touching” of not one however two junior feminine barristers in what the tribunal stated was “able to amounting to… sexual assault”. This included placing his hand down one girl’s tights and grabbing her breast over her bra. He was suspended for 3 months.

In between these two instances, the tribunal handled two others with no sexual factor. One barrister, a 38-year bar veteran, had appeared in courtroom and not using a legitimate practising certificates. He was suspended for 4 months. One other had did not co-operate with the regulator over earlier fines, incomes him a suspension of three years.

What’s mistaken with this image?

Many legal professionals see a sample rising the place the regulator palms down more durable sanctions for what may be known as purely skilled misconduct, like working and not using a practising certificates, than for at occasions fairly critical sexual misconduct.

As far as the Bar Requirements Board is worried, that is the system working as supposed. Because the blogger Crime Woman points out, the official steering on sanctions says that “inappropriate sexual conduct in an expert context” that doesn’t contain a prison conviction ought to usually be punished by a advantageous or quick suspension.

Evaluate that to a discovering of dishonesty in opposition to a barrister: the place to begin there may be disbarment, until there are “clear mitigating components”. Sexual misconduct — even when punished with a prison conviction — solely attracts the identical default sanction if it results in jail time.

Crime Woman calls this “out of step with acceptable behaviour in fashionable society; the edge to be met earlier than misconduct causes disbarment is much too excessive”.

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And he or she’s not alone. Francesca O’Neill, an elected member of the Bar Council, used that organisation’s final assembly to focus on the “profound disquiet and concern of many ladies on the Bar” over the perceived leniency in sanctions.

These demanding more durable motion appear to be pushing at an open door. Bar regulators lately put out a statement noting the priority and declaring that sanctions are beneath evaluation.

Hinting that more durable punishments are coming down the observe with out following by way of could be a courageous transfer, to place it mildly.

A case may very well be made for the established order. You may argue that regulators are there to police skilled misconduct, not odious private behaviour. Sure, the examples above each came about in chambers, however what about misconduct exterior the work context — like upskirting barrister Daren Timpson-Hunt?

If misconduct has already been punished with a prison sentence, then the individual has paid their debt to society. As the present steering says, regulatory sanctions usually are not alleged to be “a second type of punishment”.

And if the misconduct wasn’t critical sufficient for a prison prosecution, ought to the individual actually lose their whole profession over it?

However many 21st century legal professionals don’t draw bright-line distinctions between private {and professional} behaviour.

Cornerstone Barristers lately booted out one in all their members, Jon Holbrook, for tweeting that “The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour“. Holbrook — who says he jumped earlier than he was pushed — famous that the tweet got here from a private account that didn’t hyperlink him with Cornerstone in any respect; however that made no distinction to his former colleagues’ view of his health for membership.

Whereas Jolyon Maugham QC has claimed that Allen & Overy threatened to blacklist his chambers after he clubbed a fox to death with a baseball bat. Assuming that’s true (A&O aren’t commenting), it’s instance of legal professionals taking the view that non-public behaviour ought to have skilled penalties.

In that form of setting, tightening the foundations on sexual misconduct in or out of chambers is more likely to be common within the occupation.

Let’s see how far the regulators go.

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