Barrister suspended for telling jury that judge was talking “rubbish”

Snaresbrook Crown Court: Barrister clashed with judge

A barrister who described a judge’s summary of a witness’s evidence as “absolute rubbish” and asked if the judge was giving evidence has been suspended for four months.

A Bar disciplinary tribunal said Jacqueline Vallejo adopted “an abrupt, disrespectful and unhelpful tone, attitude and approach” in her dealings with the unnamed judge at Snaresbrook Crown Court back in 2016.

The comments indicate that the Garden Court Chambers barrister, called in 1997, considered the judge was leaning in favour of the prosecution.

Their first of their Rumpole-like clashes came when she refused the judge’s order to engage with prosecution counsel to agree a schedule. She told the judge that “if your Honour wants to report me, then so be it”.

When the judge said they were not going to delay the trial, she replied: “Well, that’s exactly what your Honour is doing.” Further, Ms Vallejo said in submissions: “Don’t try and make me sound like an idiot.”

When asked to sit down, she replied: “I was going to sit down. I didn’t need your Honour to tell me.”

On another day of the trial, when the judge sought clarification about a witness’s statement, Ms Vallejo said in front of the jury: “Well, if your Honour wants to conduct the cross-examination, I’ll sit down.”

The judge invited her to continue but she said: “No, your Honour can continue if you like.”

She went on to criticise the judge in front of the jury by saying: “When Mr X gave evidence yesterday, he gave evidence in relation to hearsay and your Honour of course didn’t stop him, and of course there’s been no hearsay application from the Crown.”

The next charge was that Ms Vallejo had been “unduly argumentative” with the judge. When asked to clarify the issues in relation to certain evidence, she replied “I’ve explained it already”, and then that she had accepted the “whole of the prosecution case… because I’m being forced to by the learned judge”.

She also told the judge: “I cannot force my client to provide a defence statement. What part of that does your Honour not understand?”

The final clash came three weeks later, when Ms Vallego talked over and interrupted the judge.

Then, when the judge summarised evidence that had been given by a witness, she said in front of the jury that it was “absolute rubbish”. She also asked: “Is your Honour giving evidence?”

In addition to the four-month suspension, Ms Vallejo was ordered to pay costs of £2,000.

The decision is still open to appeal and the tribunal’s full reasons will be published in the coming weeks.

A Bar Standards Board spokesman said: “Hearings can often be stressful and challenging and barristers must be able to defend their clients robustly. However, the conduct of the barrister in this case went beyond robustness and interfered with the administration of justice.

“The seriousness of this behaviour is reflected in the Tribunal’s sanction of suspension from practice.”

In 2020, another criminal defence barrister, Marguerite Russell, was reprimanded and fined for shouting and pulling faces at a judge at Snaresbrook.

Although the name of the case involving Ms Vallejo has not been confirmed, she was representing another defendant in the same case as Ms Russell.

A Court of Appeal ruling in 2017 detailed the “very unfortunate deterioration in the relationship” between Her Honour Judge Kaul QC and counsel for the two defendants.

Lady Justice Hallett noted that the judge had complained to the BSB and said the appeal court too had “a number of very real concerns about counsel’s behaviour”. The convictions were upheld.

The Bar tribunal said it was “remarkable” that Ms Russell did not send the judge a letter of apology.

    Readers Comments

  • Andrew Christodoulou says:

    In my experience from Magistrates’ to Crown Court, there are judges who lean towards the Crown. The repartee between counsel and the Judge herein was hardly Rumpold, it was not subtle or intelligent and resistance at times was unnecessary. Nevertheless, it is preferred to extreme cases when counsel say nothing, when they should at least seek a void dire, out of presence of the jury, to raise an issue with the judge.

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