Barrister who was fined £1,800 for pestering three women at chambers summer party has decision OVERTURNED by High Court

A ‘medical condition’ was to blame

Howd pictured alongside Nigel Farage
Howd pictured alongside Nigel Farage

A barrister and former UKIP candidate who was reprimanded for acting inappropriately towards three different women at a chambers summer party has had the decision overturned by the High Court.

Last summer a Bar Standards Board (BSB) disciplinary report revealed how Stephen Howd — who was a tenant at Leeds’ Zenith Chambers at the time — took the hand of an unnamed woman and “attempted to kiss her on or near the lips”. Later that same evening he suggested they dance “crotch to crotch”. Intoxicated, Howd — who was suspended by UKIP after the incident came to light — was also found to have acted improperly towards two other female colleagues that evening.

Howd was eventually fined £1,800 by the BSB and ordered to pay costs of £400. Now, the Oxford-educated barrister has successfully appealed the decision.

Representing himself alongside Anton Lodge QC, Howd — who is a commercial and property law specialist — argued that the tribunal had misinterpreted and failed to give due regard to his “medical condition”. The condition is described as “confidential” and is not disclosed within the judgment.

The tribunal had found that Howd’s “excessive consumption of alcohol drove him to act as he did and his medical condition did not make a significant contribution to his conduct”, in the High Court’s words.

But Mrs Justice Lane, sitting in the Queen’s Bench Division of the Administrative Court, didn’t agree. Thanks in part to further evidence submitted by Howd, she said “his inappropriate, and at times offensive, behaviour was a consequence of his medical condition.” Continuing, she added that the medical evidence:

[E]stablished that his excessive consumption of alcohol was very likely to have been a response to the onset of his medical condition, and it probably had the unfortunate consequence of exacerbating his disinhibition and loss of judgment. In these circumstances, Mr Howd’s behaviour plainly was not reprehensible, morally culpable or disgraceful, as it was caused by factors beyond his control. In my judgment, it did not reach the threshold for a finding of serious professional misconduct.

Howd, who lost to Labour in Scunthorpe in the general election back in 2015, is no longer a member of Zenith Chambers and operates his own law firm called Howd Law.

A BSB spokesperson, commenting on the latest news, told Legal Cheek:

We note the judgment of the Court. Whilst disappointed, we have no further comment.

Read the judgment in full below:

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43 Comments

J.V. Jarndyce

I have no idea what his medical condition is, but I’m sure there are many that could cause unusual and inappropriate behaviour that might otherwise lead to breaches of the standard of professional conduct expected of a barrister. Some are recognised disabilities, many are not. But they certainly do not automatically disqualify the sufferers from practice.

(4)(5)
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Anonymous

This is utter bollocks. If he has a medical condition he must also know that it is exacerbated by alcohol. He should be in no better position than other people whose judgement/actions are impaired due to intoxication: drink drivers, football fans, barristers… (a large number of the disciplinary hearing for the bar involve alcohol).

(0)(0)
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Just Anonymous

My recollection of that aspect of the law is shaky, but I think that only applies if the decision to drink was itself voluntary. Here, however, if I understand correctly, Lang J found that Howd’s medical condition caused him to drink.

(8)(2)
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Anonymous

I think alcoholism and addiction is increasingly being seen as a health issue….. recognised by the WHO as a disease and not just voluntary substance abuse anymore……I don’t think you should be struck off for being an alcoholic to a greater or lesser degree……you should however, be compelled to get some medical help

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

I’m getting a whiff of hypocrisy in this article by Thomas.

On Monday we had an article slamming the Daily Mail for its criticism of lawyers. Yet this article is not so subtly set up to mock this barrister and suggest that the High Court’s decision was daft, using a photo of him with Farage to imply guilt by association (Farage guilty of being a fascist in Thomas’s mind probably). I hardly need remind anyone on here that this chap is now innocent.

You’re free to stoop to tabloid-level journalism LC, but don’t be two faced about it.

(16)(14)
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Top Cat

This decision is total joke.

Clearly a case of the High Court Judges (ex-barristers) favouring their own.

And they didn’t even have the decency to specify what mysterious illness makes you want to drink, then want to start acting like a lech, and then makes you want to drink more. Secret Justice from the High Court…

The bloke is a disgrace and should be struck off.

As should Mrs Justice Lane who is clearly a joke.

(18)(11)
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Iami Tafari who im big friend of Benjamin Zephaniah

Me thought LC promote cabbage and asparagus
Turkeys wid conditions
So why not di diagnosis
Fo Lord Harley of halitosis?

(0)(12)
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Jones Day Partner

You can do it when and wherever you please at our office, in fact it’s encouraged – we have special pods set aside for “office relations”.

(2)(0)
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Anonymous Coward

Of course you can have sex with colleagues? Why wouldn’t you be able to?

Just don’t fraternise in the office and bang each other elsewhere and no-one need even know.

(0)(1)
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A barrister

Hmmm. Without seeing the confidential Annex containing the medical stuff, it’s impossible to judge the reasonableness of this decision.

I question whether Howd’s right to privacy in respect of his medical condition should have prevailed over the imperative of open justice and the need to preserve confidence in the Court’s process.

In the circumstances of this case, and given the critical role which the medical evidence played in dictating the result, I think the medical findings should have been published. It’s very common for people to behave badly when drunk. It is rare for this to be excusable by reference to a medical condition. Particularly in circumstances where the appellant was a barrister and the Judge an ex-barrister, there was a need to preserve public confidence by publishing the Judge’s findings in full.

(12)(1)
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Need Advice

I’ve been offered a vacation scheme by both Pinsent Masons and Eversheds. The dates clash so I can’t do both. Which one would you (generally) recommend? I feel like the former is more up my street in terms of work culture. I also suspect that I stand a better chance of parlaying their VS into a TC.

(1)(2)
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Anonymous

You seem to have worked it out for yourself and applied a level of rational thinking as to why one is better (for you) than the other, so I don’t think you need advice from here.

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

I’d go Pinsents, especially if you’re into technology. My experiences dealing with them on the other side have always been good (they’ve been intelligent, and able to discuss the parties’ commercial rationales rather than just taking points for the sake of it). Clients and colleagues also speak well of them. Also, their Out-law blog is exemplary.

I have always found Eversheds to be a massive PITA to deal with and have a few horror stories from clients on them which I can’t repeat without risk. But, basically, bag of wankers.

For context, I’ve worked as an IP, IT and commercial lawyer for eight years.

(2)(1)
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Anonymous

Looking at rollonfriday they seem to have a similar number of TCs available and retain a similar percentage, plus they both have target hours of 1500. Pay is similar too. Treatment and prospects are higher at Eversheds, but Pinsents maternity package is far better, so perhaps they consider family less of an inconvenience?

(1)(1)
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Anonymous

I think they will both completely understand if you ring each of them and say you have a clash, and, would it be possible for x, as they made the vac scheme offer latest, to tag me onto a later vac scheme instead. I doubt you will be the first to have been made two offers in the same period. It also makes you sound eligible, which is no bad thing.

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

A secret, undiagnosed medical issue that causes you to grope up women? Yeah, I’m sure that’s a thing. Sounds like he and his barrister were suffering from a case of bullshititis.

(8)(0)
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LC Team

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Please email us your details to claim your prize!

(0)(1)
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Second Six Star called Bob

Zenith Chambers – the best set in the world, honest. The Clifford Chance of Leeds.

Nothing like Irwin Mitchell, honest.

(5)(3)
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ConfidentialAnnex

Without disclosure of the mysterious medical condition which enables one to grope women at drinks parties without culpability, the decision looks very dodgy indeed. In the circumstances, Howd’s desire to keep the condition secret should not have been allowed to override the importance of revealing what the medical condition is.

Anyway, I’ll have two of whatever Howd is drinking – and bugger the consequences. Literally.

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

Howd was found to have done the things he was accused of. His excuse was his medical condition caused him to do them, or caused him to drink and the drink, in turn, caused him to do them.

What I’m not seeing is the normal statement of “I would like to apologise to those affected by my actions, which were out of character and not within my control”. Some acknowledgment that those people were upset by what he did, even if he didn’t mean to do it. Instead all there is is his statement that he is pleased to be cleared having had the accusations hanging over him for 2 years.

(2)(0)
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