A barrister suspended last month for offensive messages on Facebook posted one that was effectively a threat to kill a member of the public, it has emerged.
A Bar disciplinary tribunal said Richard Ian Miles’s posts were targeted at a woman and were “misogynistic”.
Called in 1997, Mr Miles was suspended for 10 months after making the comments on a private group called ‘London floaters do as you likey’.
The public front page of the group, which has 262 members as of this morning, says: “Here you can cuss who you want when you want. You can name and shame too.”
The tribunal has now published its more detailed ruling and the five-member panel found unanimously that the comments – which were all directed at one woman – were “grossly offensive and disparaging, including matters of a sexual and/or violent nature”.
It continued: “For example, there were references to her being a prostitute and a witch, references to sexual and physical violence and, on one post, there was effectively a threat to kill her.
“The tribunal found the posts to be targeted and misogynistic.”
The tribunal said Mr Miles’ submissions about the absence of any wish or intent on his part to physically harm the woman was not a defence to the charge, but was relevant when it came to sanction. It considered that this was better viewed as the absence of an aggravating factor, rather than mitigation.
It said his conduct was of a “morally culpable or disgraceful kind that brought the profession into disrepute”.
Among the messages he sent, as listed separately by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), were:
- “I love [Person A] Bleurgth!”
- “I adore her coquettish smile and obviously fake boobs.”
- “As an 18 year old I loved to stick my head between a girl’s boobs, shake it about, and go ‘blblblbrbrblblbr’. They were always impressed.”
- “As an adult, I’d now go the whole way and fully chunder down her cleavage if I got the opportunity…”
- “If we can’t at least find some other saggy front bottom to abuse can we at least speculate what the evil prolapsed whore might charge for ‘extras’? She’s clearly got A-Levels (maybe not recognised by any exam board) and she’d only charge an extra 54p for that…but spit roasted three ways by some 1920’s bolsheviks? I reckon she’d pay. Anyone feeling a bit Trotsky? We’d have her crying out in origami….oh, doesn’t really matter so long as she’s crying….”
- “A couple of thoughts for the next Feildes Weir bash:
- “1) could we rent a stunt dwarf and have a competition for the most imaginative catapult?
- “2) a wicker-man competition for 9-fingered witch burning? Obviously we only get to do that once, so it would be mainly based on stylistic merit. Winner gets to incinerate her in at at the end of the evening. We could all wear Maggie Thatcher Spitting Image style masks and sing ‘The Landlords Daughter’ as she goes up. Lana Perry gets the Brit Ekland role….”
The tribunal rejected Mr Miles’ argument that, as the posts had nothing to do with his practice as a barrister and had not led to a prosecution, they could only affect his personal and not professional reputation.
It said the authorities clearly established that the regulator was empowered to consider acts and behaviour which were not strictly related to practice.
It also did not accept the argument that the posts were all private and intended only for members of one specific chat group and no other.
“We accepted the submission made on behalf of the BSB that the sending of the offensive messages in this case to a group containing at least 50 members of an online chat forum was not confidential and risked resurfacing or becoming available to non-members, as indeed proved to be the case.”
Mr Miles’ argument that the BSB and tribunal were interfering with his right to free speech was dismissed – the disciplinary proceedings were a “justified interference” with his rights “corresponding to a pressing social need to uphold and maintain professional standards”.
In reaching its sanction, the tribunal said aggravating factors including Mr Miles continuing his conduct after one of his posts was removed by Facebook on the ground that it was grossly offensive and that he showed, at best, “grudging” regret. He had not offered any genuine apology to the woman.
He also had two previous disciplinary findings against him, but as these were of “an essentially administrative nature”, they were not aggravating factors.
Mr Miles admitted that he was aware of the BSB’s guidance on the appropriate use of social media but had not read it.
This guidance was recently updated to warn that barristers who used social media inappropriately would face disciplinary action even if they believe they are doing so in their private capacity.