But fined £500 over separate tweet about Muslims
A barrister expelled from his chambers over a tweet about a “stroppy teenager of colour” has been cleared of misconduct by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
The regulator found that Jon Holbrook was expressing his “personal political opinion on a piece of legislation” when he tweeted in January that “the Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour”.
But it slapped him with a small fine and an official warning over a separate tweet said to “promote hostility towards Muslims”. Holbrook says he will appeal.
The row began on 17 January 2021 when Holbrook — a UKIP member with strong views on human rights and equalities laws — came across a video from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The video outlined how the Commission had supported a mixed-race teenager sent home from school because her afro style hair was against uniform policy.
Holbrook’s take was that “The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour”.
Condemnation rained down in response — not least from Holbrook’s former chambers, Cornerstone Barristers, who asked him twice to take it down. He refused, and was expelled, although says he resigned a few days beforehand.
Bar Council head honcho Derek Sweeting QC told Holbrook: “No one doubts your right to express your opinions on social media but there is a constraint on your entitlement to do so. That is because you are a barrister and so subject to specific professional conduct rules which apply at all times.” In April, the BSB confirmed that it was investigating no fewer than 19 of Holbrook’s tweets.
A disciplinary panel has now confirmed that 18 of them, including the “stroppy teenager” comment, did not amount to professional misconduct:
“The Panel considered that the language of your tweet in describing Ms A as the ‘stroppy teenager of colour’ was ill-advised and may give rise to offence. However, it accepted that you were expressing your personal political opinion on a piece of legislation rather than intending to demean or insult another… the Panel concluded that your behaviour in posting this tweet was not seriously offensive or discreditable to amount to a breach of [Core Duty 5] or [Rule C8].”
The same went for 17 other tweets containing personal political opinions.
But the BSB did take issue with another tweet, which is still up:
Free speech is dying & Islamists & other Muslims are playing a central role.
Who will lead the struggle to reinstate free speech as the foundation of all other freedoms? https://t.co/dNDlJegdks
— Expelled & exonerated barrister Jon Holbrook (@JonHolb) October 17, 2020
This was in the context of an 18-year-old extremist beheading a teacher, Samuel Paty, for showing his middle school students cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in Charlie Hebdo magazine.
The panel’s verdict was that “the ordinary reasonable reader would understand the tweet to mean that the Muslim community was to blame for curtailing free speech. The Panel considered this would not only cause offence but could promote hostility towards Muslims as a group”.
The BSB ordered Holbrook to pay a £500 fine and issued him with a warning “to take care to consider how your public posts as a barrister may impact on you and/or the profession”. It added that this is an “administrative sanction” and “does not constitute a disciplinary finding”.
Blogging in response, Holbrook said “the BSB’s conduct in fining me for this tweet is deeply concerning”. He accused the regulator of disregarding “the rules of natural justice”, seeing as “the charge for which I was fined (causing offence and possible hostility to a group) was one never put to me”. He has until 7 September to appeal, and says he will.