A barrister in a long-running dispute with fellow counsel has been suspended from practice for two years after sending her a series of “obscene or seriously offensive” tweets.
Barbara Hewson was also disparaging of the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) disciplinary process.
According to a summary of the decision of the Bar disciplinary tribunal, Ms Hewson “behaved in a way which was seriously offensive and likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in a barrister or in the profession”.
Between February 2017 and March 2018, she posted tweets which were “seriously offensive and/or abuse and/or publicly disparaging towards the complainant, a barrister, including being directed at the complainant’s competence and/or reputation as a barristers; and/or obscene or seriously offensive in terms of the language used by Ms Hewson; and/or disparaging of the BSB’s regulatory process or of a regulatory complaint against her or of a complainant”.
Further, on 18 September 2018, Ms Hewson posted further tweets and between December 2018 and February 2019 blogs about a barrister and that barrister’s daughter which were again “seriously offensive and/or abusive and/or publicly disparaging”.
In 2017, the police issued Ms Hewson with a prevention of harassment letter under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 in response a complaint from Sarah Phillimore, a family barrister based in Bristol, about comments made by Ms Hewson on social media. Her attempt to bring a judicial review of the police decision failed.
Earlier this year, we reported on libel claims brought by Ms Hewson arising out of this.
In responses to tweets from people at the tribunal hearing, Ms Phillimore welcomed the decision, although questioned why the sanction was not more severe. This “appalling saga” was much more than a ‘Twitter spat’, she argued.
She also complained in strong terms that she had not been called to give evidence or given the chance to counter what was said about her during the hearing.
One tweet said: “As my reputation is being publicly trashed I think it only right that I publicly defend it. I asked the BSB for reassurances yesterday that the Tribunal would make no findings on any assertions which I say are false and I do not accept. The BSB could not give me that reassurance.”
In another, Ms Phillimore wrote: “I am speaking to solicitors now. I do not accept this. My ‘reward’ for bringing to the BSB’s attention serious and damaging misconduct is to find my reputation trashed on a stage set up by my own Regulator.”
A BSB spokesman said: “As the tribunal found, and Ms Hewson accepted, a barrister’s actions on social media can diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in individual barristers and the profession.
“The tribunal’s decision to suspend her from practice for two years demonstrates the serious consequences that can arise from such offensive and abusive behaviour online.”
The tribunal’s decision is open to appeal. Ms Hewson referred a request for comment to her solicitors.