The Court of Appeal has torn into a criminal barrister and referred him to the Bar Standards Board for getting into a slanging match with a Crown Court judge — but what did the pair actually say to each other?
Legal Cheek readers may recall a recent piece in which we documented Fountain Chambers barrister Ian West’s live-tweeting of an appeal of a contempt of court finding against him.
The finding involved a massive bust-up which West got into with judge Peter Kelson QC at Durham Crown Court in April while representing a client accused of theft. It culminated in the barrister failing to attend a subsequent hearing despite being ordered to do so by the judge, who found him in contempt and ordered him to pay a £500 fine. Judgment in last month’s appeal of the order was “reserved” to be handed down at a later date.
Well, that later date has come, and the good news for West is that the contempt finding and fine have been overturned (because Judge Kelson had not followed the procedure set out in the Criminal Procedure Rules to deal with contempt). But — and it’s a big ‘but’ — in handing down the judgment Court of Appeal judge Sir Brian Leveson has slammed West’s “breathtaking arrogance” and referred him to the Bar Standards Board.
Emphasising that the court’s decision to set aside the finding of contempt should not be seen as an endorsement of West’s behaviour, Leveson said:
“Mr West’s conduct constituted wilful and deliberate disobedience of an order of the court as an act of defiance which is serious misconduct of a type that is wholly inimical to the proper discharge of his professional duties and, furthermore, in total disregard of his duty to the court.
“He has shown breathtaking arrogance and his demand that the judge apologise to him was more than merely impertinent. This conduct should be considered by the Bar Standards Board to which we direct that a copy of this judgment should be sent.”
Following the hearing, West has released this statement:
“Whilst I am obviously pleased that my appeal has been allowed and the finding that I am in contempt of court has been quashed, I am disappointed that the court saw fit to criticise my professional conduct.
“The active, some might say enthusiastic, case management of criminal cases by judges causes difficult problems for defence advocates seeking to balance their duty to their clients with their duty to the court. I will continue to try to achieve that balance.”
As you can see in the transcript we have obtained of the epic bust-up between West and Judge Kelson, it’s this tension between duty to the court and duty to clients that sparks their angry disagreement. And what a disagreement it is…
The full transcript of the Court of Appeal judgment on the matter — which also saw Leveson warn that if West’s behaviour became the norm it would “cause our present system to collapse for want of sufficient funding” — is here.