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Mixed-race junior barrister makes formal complaint after being mistaken for defendant three times in one day

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‘I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work’, writes Alexandra Wilson

A mixed-race junior barrister has made a formal complaint after being repeatedly mistaken for a defendant in court yesterday.

The chief executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service has since apologised and begun an urgent investigation into the matter.

Alexandra Wilson, 25, a criminal and family law barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill, opened up about her experience on Twitter.

“Today I was assumed to be a defendant 3 times and a journalist once (lol),” she wrote in a post that received over 7,000 likes and 700 re-tweets. Wilson continued:

“There MUST be something about my face that says ‘not a barrister’ because I am literally wearing a black suit like everyone else. I don’t get it. Today it actually upset me a bit but… we move.”

Wilson went on to explain what happened. In the first instance she says she was asked for her name by a security officer so he could search for it on a list of defendants. “I explained I was a barrister,” she said. “He apologised and guided me through security.”

She was then mistaken to be a defendant for a second time when another lawyer told her to wait outside the courtroom for instructions from the usher to sign in and be called for her ‘case’. The third incident involved a court clerk who “VERY loudly” told her to leave. “Before I could respond she [the clerk] then asked if I was represented,” explained Wilson.

Despite these instances, Wilson said “the case proceeded smoothly”, but added, “this really isn’t ok though… I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work.”

In the wake of the incident, HMCTS chief executive Kevin Sadler apologised to Wilson in the thread beneath her posts. He said:

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The junior barrister received messages of support from other Twitter users, including The Secret Barrister. “I’m so sorry, Alex. Have you reported it?” the anonymous author asked.

It appears Wilson, founder of Black Women in Law, a community of women of colour in the legal profession, has gone on to make a complaint, telling followers: “I have made a formal complaint, thank you to everyone who encouraged that.”

Wilson has previously spoken about being mistaken for a defendant by court staff. In an interview with The Sunday Times she recalled being approached by an usher and told: “You must be the defendant? Follow me.” She said that these instances happened “a few times” and would usually occur in the magistrates’ court because barristers wear wigs and gowns in the Crown Court.

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