Black British barrister is mistaken for defendant thrice in a day. Courts head apologizes

Francis Akhalbey Sep 25, 2020 at 10:29am

September 25, 2020 at 10:29 am | News

Francis Akhalbey

Francis Akhalbey | Content Manager

September 25, 2020 at 10:29 am | News

Alexandra Wilson was mistaken for a defendant three times in a day -- Photo via The Guardian

A Black British barrister, who was mistaken for a defendant on three different occasions in a day while in court, took to social media to express how “exhausting” those encounters have been for her and the need for attention to be brought to the matter, particularly when several colleagues of her kind also go through similar experiences.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Alexandra Wilson – who looks into criminal and family cases – shared her encounters, with her viral posts sparking a conversation about racism in the law courts, The Guardian reports.

“First, the security officer asked me what my name was so he could ‘find [my] name on the list’ (the list of defendants). I explained I was a barrister. He apologised and guided me through security,” Wilson shared, adding that she “tried to shrug it off as an innocent mistake.”

Wilson said when she tried making her way into the courtroom to discuss the case with the prosecutor after having a word with her client, she was told she could not enter by a member of the public who thought she was a journalist. When Wilson asked why she couldn’t enter, she said the woman told her it was because “it’s court” and “only lawyers can go in.”

“The usher (the one person who recognised I was a barrister today) said to ignore her and to head on in,” Wilson added.

Wilson said when she opened the courtroom door, she was told by a barrister/solicitor she had to wait outside the court until her case was called, explaining that the usher will come over and sign her in when her case was called. “I explained I’m a barrister. She looked embarrassed and said ‘oh. I see,’” Wilson shared.

As she made her way to meet the prosecutor, Wilson said the clerk told her “VERY loudly” to “leave the courtroom and said the usher would be out shortly.”

“Before I could respond she then asked if I was represented,” she said, adding: “I, AGAIN, explained that I am a defence barrister trying to speak to the prosecutor. She looked at me, said ‘oh right, ok’ and continued with what she was doing.”

“This really isn’t ok though,” Wilson said. “I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work.”

The acting chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Kevin Sadler, responded to Wilson’s tweets with an apology, saying he was going to look into the incident.

“I‘m very sorry about your experience at court yesterday – it is totally unacceptable behaviour and I’m investigating the role of my staff and contractors as a matter of urgency,” Sadler replied. “This is not the behaviour anyone should expect and certainly does not reflect our values.”

The chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC, also released a statement calling the incident “appalling,” according to The Guardian.

“With regret, I fear Alexandra’s experience is not a one-off. Many barristers have to put up with the prejudiced assumptions of others – Alexandra has done so with exemplary grace and patience. I am speaking directly with HMCTS, the senior judiciary and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] immediately, urging more to be done to stamp out this behavior,” Pinto said.

“The barristers’ profession is always striving to be more representative of the society it serves. There is more to do to change the perception of the bar, but that is no excuse for the kind of attitudes and remarks described. We are not all white, middle-class men.”

Wilson’s incident comes in the wake of an official report cited by The Guardian that revealed that Blacks, Asians and other people from minority groups are more likely to be rejected when they apply to become a judge. It added that only 9% of people from the aforementioned groups were senior barristers.

A report from the Ministry of Justice also revealed that though Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people are “over-represented in applications for judicial appointment”, they are “less likely to be successful”.

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