A criminal law barrister who groped a Bar student he was mentoring during a drunken night out has been suspended for six months.
A Bar disciplinary tribunal heard that Sam Clement Brown, called in November 2004, “stuck his hands up her skirt” during a shared taxi ride in November 2016.
The official charge was that he “intentionally touched ‘C’, the touching was sexual, C did not consent to the touching and he did not reasonably believe that C consented to the touching”.
In doing so, he failed to act with integrity and behaved in a way that was likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in him or in the profession.
The tribunal ruling said Mr Brown was C’s Inn-appointed mentor to assist her with her future at the Bar. They met twice in November 2016.
“During the evening of the 23 November, the conversation turned to personal matters,” it said. “They both exchanged information about their respective relationships. The complainant was in a relationship with B that was coming to an end.”
Assessing that C was a credible witness, it recorded that she had just turned 26 at the time of the incident. She had spent time working overseas, during which she was subjected to a serious sexual assault.
“The complainant was still suffering the psychological effects of this during her Bar training, [and] was being supported by her GP and a counsellor. Throughout November 2016 she talked to her counsellor about low mood and feelings of vulnerability. She expressed to B her feelings of vulnerability in relation to men.”
Following the incident, she reported to B, friends and her tutor what had happened, as well as her GP and counsellor. Having also spoken to a QC, she made a formal complaint to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) in July 2017.
The tribunal said Mr Brown was 35 at the time. “He was and is a senior junior barrister practising mainly in criminal law. We recognise that Sam Brown has been under considerable emotional and professional pressure since early July 2017 when these charges were first intimated to him.
“In certain aspects, particularly his motivation for prolonging two long drinking sessions with the complainant, his evidence was unconvincing. When faced with incontrovertible evidence of her having been very drunk, he refused to accept it. He minimised the alcohol that he said she had consumed.
“The majority of the panel disbelieved what he said about moving from a wine bar to an alternative public house to make her feel more comfortable.”
The tribunal said Mr Brown did give C “some appropriate assistance with her wish to become a barrister”, particularly with email advice and an advocacy exercise.
But, it said, “the two face-to-face meetings that involved excessive alcohol consumption were of no assistance to her in that regard”.
The five-person tribunal, chaired by Her Honour Judge Penny Cushing, decided by a majority that the charges were proven. Two other charges, the details of which were not disclosed, were dismissed.
A BSB spokesman said: “The BSB recognises the difficulty of coming forward with an allegation of this nature and is committed to taking action where it is appropriate.
“Our decision to bring charges of professional misconduct against Mr Brown reflects this and the seriousness with which the BSB takes reports like this.”
The tribunal’s decision is open to appeal.