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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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6 Comments

Jarrod

Absolutely shocking. We have a long way to go to fix this profession.

(131)(128)

lol

It would be interesting to know what the people disliking this comment genuinely think about this situation…

(40)(60)

Jarrod

Unfortunately there are a lot of racists out there who see it as being “them” vs “us”. To support progress you first need to acknowledge that there is a problem.

A lot of people get defensive and feel that by acknowledging the problem they are admitting that “they” have done wrong and that the existence of the problem should make them feel some form of shame. It shouldn’t be that way.

(51)(63)

Curious

I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned that she has a book out talking about these kind of events, indeed this seems very similar to previous events described in her book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-White-Barristers-Broken-Justice/dp/1913068285/ref=nodl_

(68)(15)

Rex

I have seen something similar happen before – in that instance I think it had more to do with the fact the person looked very obviously unsure of where to go/generally confused (and therefore probably a defendant or witness) than to do with their racial background.

(21)(15)

Pope

Mea Culpa: I asked my opposing prosecutor if she was the interpreter I was waiting for today… so I agree we do all need to be aware of making assumptions. As a white male when I was young court staff often asked me if I was a police officer, at the time it annoyed me, now I look back in fondness for once being thought young and fit!

(11)(9)

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