Barrister sanctioned for “seriously offensive” tweet

Twitter: Barrister has not apologised for tweet

A barrister who sent a “seriously offensive” tweet that was “racially charged and derogatory to women” has been reprimanded and given a “low-level” fine of £1,000.

A Bar disciplinary tribunal said it was an isolated incident, but also that Martin Diggins had shown no remorse.

In October 2017, Mr Diggins, a non-practising barrister called in 1992, tweeted: “Read it. Now; refuse to perform cunnilingus on shrill negroids who will destroy an academic reputation it has taken aeons to build.”

The tribunal said the tweet was posted in response to an open letter entitled ‘Decolonising the English Faculty’, which stated that it was written as a result of a meeting that took place amongst students at Cambridge University about the need for “the faculty to decolonize its reading lists and incorporate postcolonial thought amongst its existing curriculum”.

The tribunal said it had seen “relatively little evidence” about the context of the tweet, as neither the complainant nor Mr Diggins gave evidence.

“The tweet itself indicates that it was addressed to the Twitter accounts of Cambridge University and the Cambridge University Student Union Women’s Officer,” it said.

The tweet – which was not protected – was not taken down and Mr Diggins has not apologised for it. He told the Bar Standards Board (BSB) that it was neither sexist nor racist, as had been alleged. His counsel, Mark Simpson QC, told the tribunal that it was written in anger.

Anyone clicking on Mr Diggins’ name on the tweet was taken to his website, which stated that he was a barrister.

The tribunal said this made it a matter of concern to the BSB, despite Mr Simpson arguing that it was entirely unrelated to Mr Diggins’ professional role as a barrister and it was not the BSB’s role to police a barrister’s private life.

Identifying himself as a barrister via the link “crossed the public/private divide”, the tribunal, chaired by Jonathan Glasson QC, said.

The ruling continued: “On the basis of the material that is before us, we are satisfied that to the criminal standard that the tweet was ‘seriously offensive’.

“In our judgment, the reference to ‘refuse to perform cunnilingus on shrill negroids’ was racially charged and derogatory to women.

“In reaching that conclusion, we have followed the guidance of Stocker [a Supreme Court decision this year on whether a Facebook post was defamatory] and formed an impressionistic view of the meaning of the tweet by reference to what evidence that there is as to the context of the tweet.”

The use of such language was “particularly grave” and likely to diminish the trust and confidence the public placed in the profession, in breach of the BSB Handbook, the tribunal ruled. In all the circumstances, “we are satisfied that the line was crossed”.

The tribunal said its sanctions guidance offered limited assistance in a case like this, except that as an isolated incident the starting point should be a reprimand and a low-level fine, defined as one up to £1,000.

“This was an isolated incident but we are mindful that [Mr Diggins] has shown no remorse for what has occurred, nor has he demonstrated any insight. In our judgment, the appropriate sanction is a reprimand and a fine of £1,000.”

Mr Diggins still has time to appeal the decision.

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