‘Gender critical’ barrister successfully sues own chambers

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By CJ McKinney on

Garden Court Chambers ordered to pay 22k discrimination damages to Allison Bailey

Allison Bailey

A ‘gender critical’ barrister has successfully sued her own chambers over its response to her tweets opposing trans rights campaigns.

London Central Employment Tribunal ordered Garden Court Chambers to pay Allison Bailey, a criminal barrister at the prestigious set, £22,000 in discrimination and victimisation damages.

It found against her on several other claims, including one against the charity Stonewall.

Bailey, who describes herself as a barrister, lesbian and gender critical campaigner, has come to prominence for her stance on gender identity issues. As the tribunal put it, Bailey “believes that a woman is defined by her sex. She disagrees with the beliefs of those who say that a woman is defined by her gender, which may differ from her sex, and is for the individual to identify.”

In 2019, she helped set up the LGB Alliance as an alternative to the long-established LGBT rights group Stonewall. In a tweet about the launch, Bailey said “gender extremism is about to meet its match”. The tweet kicked off and Garden Court replied to say that it was “investigating concerns raised”. That tweet is still up.

A few weeks of investigation later, Garden Court reprimanded Bailey over two different tweets and asked her to delete them. Both tweets appeared to criticise Stonewall: one alleged that it was running workshops on how trans women “can coerce young lesbians into having sex with them”, while the other claimed the organisation was linked to “appalling levels of intimidation, fear and coercion”.

Bailey refused to delete and decided to sue both Stonewall and Garden Court. She managed to crowdfund £500,000 for the legal action despite a fundraising page being briefly pulled by CrowdJustice after the platform received complaints about the some of the content.

The case was heard over several weeks in April and May. The remote hearings, which attracted up to 250 viewers at a time, occasionally got rowdy. Most people were well behaved but “a few were ill-disciplined, using the chat room to comment on the proceedings, and on one occasion to insult counsel; they were disconnected”, the tribunal’s judgment records.

The decision runs to a marathon 400 paragraphs and lays bare the turmoil inside the prestigious chambers. After Bailey announced her legal action, a fellow GC tenant is said to have replied to a request for an expert recommendation by emailing back: “hi Allison, are you still suing us?”, according to the judgment. (They later calmed down and recommended someone.)

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The tribunal held that Bailey’s views were protected under the Equality Act 2010:

“… we concluded that her beliefs, not just about gender self-identity, but about the pernicious effect of Stonewall’s campaign promoting gender self-identity were genuine. We also found that these amounted to beliefs, not just opinions which might change with further evidence, because at the core of her opposition to Stonewall, frequently stated, was her understanding that their stance on gender theory — transwomen are women — a matter of their belief, underlay and was driving forward the erosion of women’s rights, access to single sex spaces and lesbian identity; it also underlay the characterisation of gender critical belief as transphobic and a hate crime, which was leading some to violence against gender critical believers. The claimant does not have to be correct, or have evidence to show this…”

It went on to find that Garden Court’s tweet about investigating Bailey had discriminated against her on the basis of those protected beliefs. The tweet “suggested she had done something which at the least required investigation, and so might lead to action, which could suggest some punishment”. The panel commented:

“Faced with a Twitter storm on gender self-identity, they picked sides. The Heads [of Chambers] chose to prefer the view that the claimant was in the wrong and that her tweets should be investigated, because there was a lot of opposition to the views expressed in them. They knew it was about sex versus gender… the less favourable treatment was because of her views about gender self-identity and Stonewall’s role promoting gender self-identity.”

The panel decided the outcome of Garden Court’s investigation also amounted to discrimination by the chambers against Bailey, with a side order of victimisation. According to its judgment, chambers bosses “did not heed the claimant’s explanations of intimidation and coercion, or consider whether or how this justified limitation on speech and manifestation of belief… the claimant’s gender critical belief, and in particular her belief about Stonewall’s promotion of gender self identity encouraging and being complicit in hostility to gender critical feminists, significantly influenced the finding that her two tweets were ‘likely’ to breach core duties”.

The panel ordered Garden Court Chambers Ltd and its 120 individual members to pay Bailey £22,000 in compensation for “injury to feelings”, plus £4,693.33 interest. That includes £2,000 in aggravated damages.

It dismissed several other claims of direct and indirect discrimination, as well as a separate claim that Stonewall had induced or attempted to induce the discrimination by Garden Court.

Bailey called the judgment “a vindication for all those who, like me, object to the erasure of biological sex” but said she was “disappointed not to have won my claim against Stonewall”.

In response to today’s ruling, Garden Court Chambers said: “We are reviewing today’s judgment, which dismissed Ms Bailey’s claim against Stonewall and most of her claims against Garden Court Chambers including all her claims for indirect discrimination.”

It continued:

“In particular, we note that her primary claim (for loss of earnings on the grounds of victimisation) was dismissed, the Tribunal finding that ‘We could not conclude that it was shown that the fall in income was in any way influenced (let alone significantly influenced)’ by Ms Bailey’s complaint to colleagues about Garden Court becoming a Stonewall Diversity Champion or by her beliefs.”

“The Tribunal found that it ‘could not conclude that Garden Court Chambers as a whole had a practice of treating gender critical beliefs as bigoted’. This confirms our stance. We have maintained throughout that our members, quite reasonably, hold differing views in the complex debate around trans and sex-based rights. Our primary aim throughout has always been to uphold our values and maintain a workplace that is inclusive and welcoming to all.”

“We are reviewing the judgment carefully with our legal team with a view to appeal.”

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