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Barrister expelled from chambers over ‘stroppy teenager of colour’ tweet

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Jon Holbrook, formerly of Cornerstone Barristers, says he resigned four days earlier

A senior barrister who tweeted that The Equality Act “undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour” has been expelled from his chambers.

As of today, Jon Holbrook is no longer a member of Cornerstone Barristers, a position he held for 15 years, according to a statement issued by chambers over the weekend. Members of Cornerstone met yesterday to vote to expel Holbrook from chambers — although he says he resigned four days earlier.

The expulsion followed an investigation into a “particularly offensive tweet” (below) made last month from Holbrook’s personal Twitter account. The 13-word tweet was in response to a promotional video from the Equality and Human Rights Commission about a student who was sent home from school because her afro style hair breached its uniform policy. Holbrook had been asked twice by chambers to take down the tweet.

“Members were clear that statements made on social media by Mr Holbrook were irreconcilable with membership of Cornerstone Barristers,” the statement continued. “Cornerstone Barristers reiterates its repudiation of the contents of Mr Holbrook’s particularly offensive tweet on 17 January at 09:34hrs and all that it insinuated. Mr Holbrook’s views never reflected the views of these chambers. We unequivocally condemn discrimination in all its forms.”

Holbrook announced his expulsion from the public law set on social media yesterday, tweeting, “this has freed me to continue my campaign in support of free speech and against all things woke”. His Twitter bio now reads, “cancelled for challenging the woke”.

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Holbrook went on to write an article for political magazine, The Critic, explaining why he was “cancelled by [his] barristers’ chambers over a tweet”.

The public law specialist criticised the “Twitterati of bien pensants” that called him out on the tweet’s content. “Several implied I had no place at the bar; one wondered why I ‘feel safe … tweeting something like this’. The Shadow Justice Secretary, David Lammy MP posted: ‘you shame the bar’,” he wrote.

“Has society become so intolerant towards those who challenge the woke agenda that it is no longer possible to counter this political discourse while practising as a barrister (or any sort of professional)?” he questioned, adding that over the years, “the woke” have reported several of his tweets to the Bar Standards Board.

Yet, “the woke mob on Twitter have not succeeded with their attempted cancellation”, he continued. “Four days before my expulsion I resigned, having concluded that I no longer wanted to practise as a full-time barrister.”

Holbrook, who maintained he has two Twitter accounts: one professional and one political, went on:

“The attempted cancellation prompted the manner and timing of my resignation, but it was not the underlying cause. The only reason that chambers proceeded to expel me, despite my resignation, was because the salivating attack dogs wanted some red meat to chew. Chambers was compliant enough to jump to their barking but it made no difference to me — save to enhance my reputation as a free speech advocate.”

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32 Comments

Middle English

What a terrible chain of events that show out of control wokism and the fear of upsetting the powers that be are now at the Bar. Looking at the girl in the case in question, he has a legitimate point, that the way she turned up to school should be a legitimate disciplinary issue not a discriminatory one. If legislation did go as far to to make it likely the school was in the wrong (it settled of course), then he is entitled to his valid viewpoint, no doubt shared by the vast majority of this land, that the legislation has gone too far. It is Twitter for God’s sake, do not expect beautiful crafted analysis in a couple of hundred characters.

(162)(73)

Awake

If you have so few characters in a tweet, why add “of colour”?

(35)(58)

Duh-police

Because it was a relevant point that a white teenager would not have the Equality act to defend them in this position..

(43)(14)

NS Sherlock

Because his point was that it was only protected groups that could use or arguably abuse the legislative framework. Not that hard really to work that out.

(35)(5)

Awake

If only I were as clever as you guys. T_T

(5)(7)

Anon

By adding ‘of colour’ to the tweet he was playing the identity politics game he says he hates so much.

Benny Goodman

It is discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic that is prohibited, not on the basis of a protected group.

(2)(0)

I DISAVOW

Cornerstone may think they have ticked their virtue signaling box and will now be left alone by the woke cancel mob, however they have only succeeded in showing the whole world how easily they will bow to strangers on the internet and disavow a man who broke no law except voicing a dissenting opinion.

Stay classy Cornerstone.

(87)(36)

I'm Mickey And I'm So Fine

Knowing the Bar authorities, members of Cancelstone Chambers will be able to spin this affair into a positive on judicial or silk applications.

(57)(4)

Just Anonymous

In my opinion, the biggest misjudgment here is thinking that you can have a sensible conversation of this kind on Twitter at all.

Having read Holbrook’s essay in defence, I am persuaded that there is a perfectly reasonable – and non-discriminatory – interpretation of what he said. Summarising as simply as I can, that interpretation is as follows:

” ‘Stroppy’ individuals, who happen to have protected characteristics, are able to abuse the Equality Act 2010 in furtherance of their own stroppiness.”

That is a perfectly reasonable position that people should be entitled to articulate without risking their professional career. Crucially, what is not being alleged is that ‘minority individuals’ are inherently more stroppy than anyone else. Rather, the argument is simply that they are the only ones with access to this particular weapon.

We can then have a perfectly legitimate debate as to whether this particular individual was being stroppy or whether she had a legitimate complaint. Here, I do think that Holbrook does have an arguable point when he points out that the initial school policy permitted afro hair of ‘reasonable’ length, and so by definition the pupil was requesting an ‘unreasonable’ length. I can see arguments against that, but again, I don’t think any barrister should lose their professional career merely by taking such a position.

But look at all the characters I have had to use to articulate what I hope is a sensible and nuanced position. I don’t understand why anyone would even attempt to do the same under Twitter’s strict character limit.

(73)(14)

Michael

Well said, I deleted my twitter months ago and find my life greatly improved.

(21)(2)

anonymous

Agreed; really excellent comment (whatever side of the fence you fall on).

(13)(2)

Another Anonymous

Well said, and appropriately enough this is one of the most nuanced tales I’ve seen yet on this issue

(4)(0)

Awake

Clearly it was inappropriate for him to say “of colour”. If he hadn’t said that, I really don’t think think there would be the same furore, and he might still have his dignity in tact. As it is, he’s made an absolute fool of himself.

If you want to have a serious discussion about human right, leave out the invective.

(17)(45)

Awoke

The case in question was only possible because the teenager in question played the race card when it was an issue of school discipline and nothing to do with race. If the entire premise of the case is based on the racial identity of the individual and the commentary provided was based on how said individual abused the 2010 act in a way that only a person of colour could, then it’s perfectly reasonable.

But don’t let any of that get in the way of your wokery.

(38)(15)

Sinful lawyer

wouldn’t be fired is he didnt use the word “stroppy”. also if he didnt have a condescending attitude and focus on the small percentage of people rather than the majority , he wouldn’t be in this situation.

Some people will see this as him generalizing all people of color, and hence the firm needed to fire him to separate themselves from such stupidity.

To those saying its a harsh punishment or its not serious, i dare you to say something similar on your linkedin and see how people react to you

(14)(31)

Sinful loser

Your argument is as poor as your spelling and grammar.

(13)(1)

DustyWig

In the 1990’s I was a BAME pupil at Jon Holbrook’s previous Chambers, then known as 2 Garden Court. He treated me very much better than did certain other individuals there who have joined the latest Twitter mob against him.
If you want thoughtfulness, principle and integrity then look to Jon Holbrook. However, be in no doubt: your better career move at today’s Bar will be to join the mob to silence principled, reasonable disagreement with prevailing orthodoxy.
Best of luck, Jon and on to better things!

(56)(3)

Anonymous

Pity neither you or Holbrook couldn’t offer similar words to Ruby.

It’s sad that some think BAME people go through the personal expense, hours of preparation over many months, risk and the stress of litigation all out of being merely ‘stroppy’.

Remember, people go through everything and lose claims too – the EA 2010 isn’t in fact a slot machine dispensing cash to angry minorities. Do you never think that they might actually be right to point out unfair treatment?

I’m sure we won’t hear Holbrook ‘silenced’ in all the future interviews he’ll give to the Daily Mail, LBC, The Spectator, LC, ROF, etc about being ‘cancelled’, shunned and unloved.

(12)(29)

Anonymous

What? The EHRC supported this! What sort of
Government allows hard working taxpayers to fund such petty claims? This was not a religious discrimination case like some of the Sikh cases. Taxpayers deserve better. Post-COVID I can see an obvious spending saving in the EHRC budget if the are taking up this sort of case.

(17)(4)

Sensible Twitter voice.

It is obviously relevant that uniform policies target a black persons hair whilst having no issue with my own (long black curly) hair style, as a white man.

However, that wasn’t the point he was making, the teenager didn’t follow the uniform policy and had the equality act rush to their defence. Whether the uniform policy in itself discriminatory, I don’t think had much to do with his tweet.

CS chambers interestingly added that last line to their tweet whilst not saying whether the tweet was discriminatory. It’s not.

(19)(1)

Anon

Read Holbrook’s piece in The Critic before making ill-founded allegations against him. His arguments deserve to be aired and I expect that the vast majority of voters and parents of school children would support his views. He seems to have been treated appallingly.

(39)(8)

Urgh

Why are we giving support to THIS stroppy narcissist crying ‘victim’ here?

Absolutely no one is stopping Holbrook from publicly airing his views. However, if those views cast negative aspersions on an ethnic group that could potentially instruct him in the future, its right for his chambers to step in and protect their reputation.

Incredible that one Black child’s choice of natural hairstyle is the hill he is willing to die on at the expense of his professional reputation and all he’s worked for.

Go on Holbrook, keep on spouting your bile. You aren’t in fact entitled to adulation, ‘likes’ or sympathy for a seemingly callous lack of empathy towards others.

(42)(64)

Bazza

It is easy to underestimate just how disruptive the expulsion of a barrister from their chambers can be. I accept that senior barristers will have a number of loyal solicitors. They will continue to send instructions and the barrister will be able to sustain a practice. However, the chambers is where the business development is done. The chambers manages the billing and aged debt. A barrister expelled from chambers is a bit like a snail without a shell. They may be able to survive but it will not be a particularly pleasant experience. A barrister in the position of Jon Holbrook may attempt to find another chambers but it will be difficult to do so at least until the current mess blows over.

There are those who may remember the case back in 2010 of an experienced chancery barrister who left his set after being revealed to be a member of the British National Party. I doubt there was much sympathy for him at the time. However, I felt uneasy even then. The British National Party was a legal political party and had not been proscribed. It seemed a hard bargain to have a barrister being unable to continue with their membership of a chambers ostensibly because of views which were personal, political and which do not affect their practice in any way.

We can see how much things have changed in the intervening decade. Jon Holbrook is expelled from his set for seemingly little more than using the words ‘stroppy’ and ‘colour’ in a single sentence. As has been pointed out above, there is a perfectly reasonable and non-discriminatory interpretation of what he said. This appears to have been missed by those who have immediately chosen the most draconian sanction available.

There should be no barrister or professional who should feel that they are safe from the same thing happening to them. The window of acceptable public opinion has been growing narrower and narrower over recent years. I have mentioned events in 2010 and 2020. Where will we be in 2030? Will barristers or any professionals even be able to express any personal views (save those which are stringently non-controversial)?

We either give people the greatest degree of latitude in their personal thoughts, beliefs and actions, or we engage in the sort of vicious and circular public shaming that has been the end of Jon Holbrook. I know which I prefer.

(31)(5)

Urgh

By all means, espouse your personal views on Twitter whenever you like.

But by choosing to be a barrister, you choose to abide by an ethical code that proscribes you to treat people equally without undue prejudice or discrimination by virtue of their race. That, and sanctions for breaches of the code, comes with the territory.

You could in theory support Hitler’s views on Twitter in the name of ‘frees peach’ as a barrister. But if the BSB then uses the Code you signed up with to sanction you, you would only have only yourself to blame.

Being a barrister is optional. Why choose to shackle yourself to an ethical code, when you could simply change careers and be as curmudgeonly and vitriolic to any race you please on Twitter whenever you like?

(15)(30)

Silent Majority

No. No. No. The BSB has no business in getting involved in this sort of thing at all.

– Either what someone says on Twitter etc. is a crime or libellous, or it is not.
– If it is a crime, the CPS can prosecute it if it so chooses. If it’s libellous, the relevant claimant can make a claim.
– If it is not, that is the end of the matter. It is not for the BSB to police people’s speech, and nor should it be.

“Diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or in the profession” is such an open textured and vague code that it is massively open to abuse. And it should definitely not be used by the BSB to sanction things that people have said, which is not a crime nor defamatory. Free speech is far too important to be left in their hands.

(33)(5)

Commercial Junior

I, and every barrister I have spoken to about this, think Holbrook should not have been kicked out for this. Though I note he resigned first. My own set has people who are very much in the minority on their views. They should not be removed for that. Do I think he was making a valid argument about the Equality Act? Yes. Do I agree with him? I don’t know, as I haven’t thought about it enough, nor do I know the law in that area. Do I agree with how he phrased it? No, I think he could have phrased it better. But that is up to him.

There was, however, one common thread with everyone I spoke to about this. Not one of us is willing to speak up about this on Twitter or other public forum. We don’t want to be next – our mortgages and careers matter too much to us. This has the effect of making the twitter response look like it reflects the consensus opinion of the Bar. It does not. There are, for example, far more Brexit voters at the Bar than you would ever guess from looking at Twitter.

(42)(4)

Shocking Stuff

Good to know.

As a Black pupillage-seeker, I wouldn’t want to work with people who secretly might think me ‘stroppy’ and entitled were I dare to use a piece of legislation passed by a government I voted for to uphold my rights.

(14)(37)

Adam

What about all his tweets about Muslims in the past?

(5)(11)

Non-woke barrister

In short, lots of barristers are awful people. No great revelation there. But it does seem that in recent years certain parts of the profession have been seriously infected with the woke virus, a point also illustrated by the utter tripe that fills every single edition of Counsel magazine (is it possible to have an edition with fewer than five articles about ‘equality and diversity’, each of which could be succinctly summarised as ‘white men bad’?).

It was also interesting to see the comments from David Burgess of the Legal 500, to the effect that Holbrook was removed from the Legal 500’s rankings last year because of his opinions. While anyone in their right mind knows that the L500’s rankings are a joke (and I say that as someone who is in it), I hadn’t previously realised that being listed was dependent upon adherence to woke ideology, rather than simply legal ability (or, at least, finding some people willing to assert that you have legal ability).

In short, I really do despair of the members of my profession. The main benefit of incidents like this is that the truly vile reveal themselves by joining in the pile-on, and so anyone encountering them in the future knows to treat them with a good deal of caution.

(19)(3)

Anon

The girl wants to wear her hair in the way it naturally grows. 30cm of a white lady’s straight hair is permitted, but 30cm of a black lady’s afro hair is not – it must be softened and straightened so as to look like a white woman’s hair. Being told that an equal length of your natural hair is a disciplinary issue is discriminatory (unless you think afro hair is inherently disorderly). Imagine then the rule “all shall wear afro hair”. How would that work?

For the record, I do not think that this man should have been expelled from his chambers. However, we should discuss how the ‘acceptable’ hairstyle, for women particularly, seems to be envisaged in the image of a white person.

(20)(17)

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