HMCTS hits back at claims a criminal barrister’s high heels were confiscated by court staff for being ‘too spiky’

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Lawyer said colleague had to do hearing in bare feet

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has responded to claims that a barrister had her shoes confiscated by court staff for being “too spiky”.

Adam King, a barrister at QEB Hollis Whiteman, said a colleague of his had to conduct a hearing in bare feet after an encounter with security at London’s Wood Green Crown Court. He also said his colleague had written to HMCTS by email about the incident.

King’s tweet has racked up hundreds of likes, retweets and comments, with fellow lawyers describing the incident as “disgusting”, “astonishing” and potentially discriminatory.

Susan Acland-Hood, the CEO of HMCTS, was quick to respond, clarifying that “shoes shouldn’t have been confiscated” and that she’ll “sort this incident”. Following enquiries, today HMCTS responded with this statement:

King tells us he’s following this up with HMCTS.

This isn’t the first time criminal barristers have taken to Twitter to air their court security gripes.

In March, one “hungry and confused” family law barrister said her plastic knife and fork were nabbed by security, while in December an academic claimed one of his law students had their notebook confiscated by court staff.

Before then, last summer we reported on the notorious “sip test”, which requires court users to taste unsealed beverages to prove their contents are harmless. Barristers flooded to Twitter to slam the test for “wasting valuable time”.

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Rather than properly fund the court system, this country would rather turn it into a makework scheme for jobsworth who use no common sense in applying rules to prevent terror attacks.

The stories are endless, and seem to penalise women in particular: supermarket water bottles being tested so that they are not acid, handbags searched, makeup confiscated.

All counsel attending court should have some form of ID which would allow them to skip security checks and get on with their job.

Before anyone does the BPTC, I encourage them to spend a week in their nearest local court. They will encounter hostile, surly staff, an infrastructure with peeling paint and sagging ceiling tiles, a building which is hot in summer and cold in winter.

It’s a scandal. The Government does not give a sh1t.



Once female counsel provides evidence of this it will be embarrassing for HMCTS.



Hairdryers confiscated from female counsel who have booked out of their hotels when doing a case away from home, courts that won’t let you take a can of drink in, courts that make barristers open their wig tins… I could go on. The justification for the staff searching barristers they know by name and have known for years is that ‘your family may have been kidnapped and you could be carrying a bomb in here in your wig tin.’ I should add that the staff aren’t surly and hostile in my experience. But the bureaucrats who give them their orders plainly are.



That explanation would at least have some logical foundation if it wasn’t for the fact that court staff are allowed to just walk straight through without any checks. Ditto clerks, oddly, as they are usually trolleying large quantities of luggage/boxes etc (at least that is the regime in the Rolls Building). Anyone seeking to get a bomb in by kidnapping someone’s family, take note.



Clerks have to put boxes through the scanners in the Rolls building.



Such bollox. It might have happened when it’s not busy, but it’s not the normal regime. It would be unworkable if each individual box had to be individually scanned through the scanners as there’s just so much stuff going in and out. They just wheel the trolleys through the arches and yes they go off as they always do but they are not scanned.



Or if they actually checked you wig tin.

At Westminster Mags today, I went through security (taking off my coat first since as we all know, metal detectors don’t work through cloth). Brought my water bottle through. No sip test. Security were too busy confiscating the umbrella of the solicitor next to me. Acid, Ammonia and liquid explosives are all cool to bring in as far as Westminster Mags Security are concerned. Just don’t bring an umbrella.

Southwark Crown Court has an even stranger policy. Not having an x-ray machine, guns knives and bombs are perfectly fine to bring in. Just remember to put them in your wig tin (or indeed any container in your bag as they won’t check). They will however make you que up for half an hour, whilst they wave the CPS and Court staff, police, probation through unchecked. When you get to the front, you put your bag down. They open you bag and don’t open any of the containers in your bag. You go through the metal detector several times. Highly effective for stopping you having a gun on your person. Completely useless in stopping you bringing a gun into court in your bag.

The irritation from the legal profession with security is that it is a complete waste of time and is not remotely secure. I could have brought guns, drugs, bombs and acid straight through court security had I wished to. I would not object to proper security check on everyone including anyone flashing an (easily forgeable) HMCS ID Card. The comic level of checks fails to keep anybody secure and is just irritating when you are standing in line watching the security staff wave people through unchecked.





Fed up female barrister

I agree that staff aren’t surely, and more embarrassed than anything! Regularly pointing to the cameras when examining the contents of a bag which hasn’t changed for weeks, pointing to the security camera and rolling their eyes.

What doesn’t help is also getting stuck behind crowds of punters and their families who don’t know or understand the strict rules, particularly when rushing between court centers. This cuts down on conference time, pleading with the CPS time… and more pressingly pre-hearing pit stops. “I’m terribly sorry your honour, but I was caught behind a recalsogent mother of a witness, refusing to hand over her £50 perfume to security for confiscation, and the rather understandable standoff which ensued” has once crossed my mind but didn’t pass my lips when apologising for being 2 minutes late….



I understand your concerns, but I think what HMCTS are saying is that in this case the security cameras showed that the barrister having to conduct a hearing barefoot didn’t happen.



How many inches?


JD Partner

Not nearly as many as you’ve been taking from me



So that would be approximately 3 ins then….



It is always infuriating to see plod waving a warrant card and waltz through security without all the aggro of being searched.



Just get a printer and make your own warrant card. It’d be about as much use as a real one anyway.



Confiscating heels is madness, but I fail to see the issue with bag searches, sip tests and so on. I don’t fancy getting acid chucked at me by some criminal’s aggrieved girlfriend.




It’s all very well for the denizens of the Rolls Building to bleat on about security, but you don’t get a lot of Chancery litigants chucking acid around.

It’s a bit different in the criminal courts. I’m very glad they confiscate potential weapons (probably not a pair of Russell & Bromleys though) and make visitors sip liquids.



I think this story is a non-starter.

Female counsel was probably over exaggerating a situation and now has embarrassed her friend.



Why would she lie about this? That’s a weird assumption to make.



Don’t know what happened in this case, but in general I wouldn’t assume someone is telling the truth just because there is no apparent motivation for lying.



I completely disagree. You can assume counsel are telling the truth. The profession is built on honesty. I’m at the bar and I can’t think of a single one of my colleagues who would be dishonest over something like this (easily checkable) or at all for that matter.



You might make that assumption, but in general it would be a mistake to assume that just because counsel says something it must be true. The CEO of HMCTS has said that they haven’t found evidence supporting the allegation. It may be true or may not be, we just don’t know. The alleged incident took place around a month ago now, would be interesting to see evidence either way if its so easily checkable (as I agree it should be).


Because it’s in the female nature.



What motive do the winkers say there is for her lying?



Don’t know what happened in this case, but in general people lie for a variety of motives.



And what is the motive in this case?



Don’t know if anyone is lying in this case, or their motives if they are, but in general people lie for a variety of motives.



There doesn’t need to be a motive. A lot of people, barristers included, like to make up tall tales to sound more interesting. It could have been that there was no ‘female counsel’ and that the guy invented the story himself to get retweets on twitter. It seems odd. Unless her shoes were particularly dangerous looking, there will have been loads of other women in heels entering the court that day. Why were their shoes not taken?
I have seen barristers really over-egg the pudding about how there is anarchy in the courts, walls are crumbling, ceilings are collapsing and defendants are running riot. The other day, I was in one of the courts that had been slated on Twitter and it truly was nothing like it had been described. All was working fine, so I can only conclude that some of the descriptions had been dramatised for my entertainment.


Not. Guiltay.

The bottles of aftershave I’ve left behind. Tut. Decent aftershave as well [pound shop tings].



Is there any update on this? I think its important to get to the bottom of what happened either way.



As it looks as if this didn’t actually happen, perhaps an apology is in order to the security staff at Wood Green CC.


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