Bar chief suspended for train chat that breached court order

Jackson: Required to lead by example 

The former head of the Scottish Bar has been suspended for 15 weeks after being filmed on a train naming women who had accused ex-SNP leader Alex Salmond of sexual assault, in breach of a court order.

The Faculty of Advocates Discipline Tribunal said Gordon Jackson KC had been required “to lead by example” and a suspension was required to reflect the damages done to public confidence in the profession.

Mr Jackson was dean of the Faculty of Advocates in 2020 when acting as one of two counsel for Mr Salmond, who was eventually found not guilty on 12 charges of sexual assault, while another was not proven.

The KC was filmed by another passenger in a standard carriage on a train talking to a colleague and making derogatory comments about Mr Salmond – such as describing the politician as an “objectionable bully” – and also naming two of the accusers, whose identities were protected by a court order.

The footage was passed to the Sunday Times and Mr Jackson resigned as dean in the wake of its publication.

Both the treasurer of the Faculty and Rape Crisis Scotland complained about his conduct. A Faculty complaints committee found that Mr Jackson breached an advocate’s duty to the court by publicly naming the complainants and also by saying things that, though not including naming the complainants in question, would allow a listener to discover their identity.

It ordered that the KC be suspended for five months.

On appeal in June, the tribunal upheld the first finding but overturned the second on the basis that the failure to disclose an “enhanced” version of the video to Mr Jackson created unfairness to his defence.

It said: “It remains the position that by naming two complainers on this train in the presence of others and in the circumstances described by [his colleague], Mr Jackson acted with reckless indifference to the order of the court and created a material risk that the protection afforded by the court would be compromised.”

Its newly published decision on sanction said his actions went beyond the lower threshold of unsatisfactory professional conduct and “plainly” amounted to professional misconduct.

It was “a serious and reprehensible departure from professional standards with which all advocates must comply”, especially in the context of a trial in which there was “intense public interest”.

The misconduct had damaged public confidence in the anonymity of complainants in criminal trials in Scotland and would have made the co-operation of witnesses in the court process less likely. Further, it would have caused “significant trauma” to the two women.

The tribunal said the sanction had to act as a deterrence to other barristers, meaning it had a “significant public interest element”.

“We have concluded that no sanction short of suspension from practice would adequately reflect the serious nature of this conduct, the harm caused to the complainers, the need to deter in the future and the damage done to the confidence of the public and the complainers in the standing of the Faculty and its members as persons who must act with discretion at all times.

“Mr Jackson was dean of the Faculty at the time and, in that position, he was required to lead by example.”

It decided that a 15-week suspension from 1 October was the appropriate sanction.

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