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Top QC under fire for suggesting pupil barristers should have ‘well polished shoes’ and a ‘proper haircut’

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Former Bar Council chief Richard Atkins apologises for posting tweet quoting recently deceased judge

A top QC has come under fire for suggesting pupil barristers should have “well polished shoes” and a “proper hair cut”.

In a tweet last week, Richard Atkins QC, who served as the chair of the Bar Council last year, appeared to back the views of a recently deceased High Court judge.

His tweet was dismissed as “outdated” by the legal Twitterati, with many questioning what a “proper haircut” is and what a barrister even looks like.

Family barrister Lisa Edmunds wrote:

“The profession needs to look forwards and not backwards … ‘look like a barrister’ means what exactly? I’m all for smart and professional but that sounds old school and Dickensian to me.”

Meanwhile, One Essex Court commercial barrister, David Wolfson, said, “A barrister isn’t meant to ‘look like’ anything. A barrister should ‘be’ many things: courageous, fair, determined, reliable, honest and (at least) competent”.

He added: “I believe you can be all of those things, even if your shoes aren’t well-polished.”

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

Others reminded Atkins that it’s 2020, not 1920, and, as one silk quipped, “Wait a minute! We’re supposed to get fully dressed for court these days? I thought that ended in March? #tophalfonly #dontstandup”.

Human rights lawyer, Dabaleena Dasgupta, said “this idea of ‘looking like a barrister’ is rooted in patriarchy, racism and classism”. She elaborated: “Because when that advice was given and sadly still much of the time now, ‘looking like a barrister’ means being male, white, and posh.”

Atkins’ tweet referred to an obituary in The Times (£) of the former High Court judge and fellow Bar Council chairman Sir Robert Johnson QC.

It described Johnson as “a believer in being correctly dressed” and someone who “adhered longer than most to the traditional male barrister’s attire of a black jacket and waistcoat, pinstripe trousers, stiff collar and bowler hat”.

The obituary concluded: “He expected his pupils to have their hair properly cut and to wear well polished shoes. ‘Even if you don’t know any law … you can at least look like a barrister'”, he is reported to have said.

Atkins, who heads northern set St Philips Chambers, told Legal Cheek that the tweet was intended to pay homage to Johnson. He said:

“I am sorry that the message I tweeted on Thursday quoting Sir Robert Johnson has caused some people upset. That was not my intention, I had never intended to offend anyone. I had intended to pay homage to Sir Robert Johnson, a man who set high standards for so many things. It was also intended to be light-hearted. I have spent a large part of my life seeking to promote a modern, forward thinking, diverse bar, open to all, and will continue to do so.”

The Twitter row comes as a war of words erupted between family law firm Vardags and a legal workers’ union over a leaked dress code email. The incredible 1,000-word dossier, which found its way to Legal Cheek in September, included fashion and lifestyle pointers such as dressing “discreetly sexy and colourful and flamboyant at the same time according to your preference”.

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63 Comments

Kim Wexler

Brigade of Guards at all times. Pathetic that we live in a time where this sort of comment attracts opprobrium and still worse that Atkins felt the need to and did back down. Barristers should be properly turned out. Simple human nature dictates that clients and the bench are underwhelmed by scruffy representation and the opposition won’t take you seriously and will exploit it. Off to clean my shoes as I do every morning.

Bob

The only disappointing part is the apology

Peter Telford

I was with Atkins until he apologised. Robert’s was 100% right. And stand tall.

Wokey McWokeface

Cancel him!!!!!

He has caused offence, inadvertently!

His comments can be construed as racist!

He has no business being a QC!

He MUST lose his job IMMEDIATELY!!!!

🎵🎶 You put your left fist in…

Your left fist out…

In, out, in, out, shake it all about!

You do the Wokey-Kokey and you turn the world around.

That’s what it’s all about!!!

OOOOOOOOOH THE WOKEY-KOKEY!!!!

OOOOOOOOOH THE WOKEY-KOKEY!!!!

OOOOOOOOOH THE WOKEY-KOKEY!!!

FACTS BENT!

TRUTH STRETCHED!

RAH RAH RAH!!!!! 🎵🎶

Not woke

You don’t have to be woke to think that ‘well polished shoes’ and a ‘proper haircut’ man is a twat

Heather

Doesn’t the pc crowd have anything better to worry about? Earlier correspondent is right: doesn’t cost lost to be presentable but it does make a difference in business.

Anonymous

He should apologise for the unnecessary apology.

Lord Halfwit of Counsel

If he has literally suggested that shoes should be blacked up, he must resign.

Anthony

You have said exactly what I wanted to say. Surely, it is not too much to ask for advocates to be well turned out. Forget the bowler hat, stiff collar and waistcoat; but otherwise be smart with polished shoes: this shows respect to the court and the client. Not much to ask really.

Standard Firework

That fat bloke who goes to Reading Crown Court with the stripy trousers has the right idea but he needs a bowler hat and a pocket watch or else it just doesn’t work.

Anon

This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. A tidy haircut and polished shoes show that you take care of your appearance and more likely to take care of the client’s case. Granted, not always the case, and neither is the reverse, but to heckle and jeer at respectable Queen’s Counsel for quoting a dead judge is just plain stupid.

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