Campaigners call on regulator to drop Proudman prosecution

Proudman: Called out judge’s ruling

A group of campaigners have called on the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to drop its prosecution of high-profile and self-declared feminist barrister Dr Charlotte Proudman over criticisms she made of a judge.

The open letter, signed by 68 people, said the case sent “a disconcerting message”, namely that “legal professionals who dare to challenge systemic bias will be punished”.

It was reported recently that Dr Proudman is facing disciplinary proceedings over a series of tweets criticising a judgment of Sir Jonathan Cohen – a Garrick Club member – over remarks he made in a family case two years ago.

In one of them, she wrote: “I lost the case. I do not accept the judge’s reasoning. This judgment has echoes of the ‘boys’ club’ which still exists among men in powerful positions.”

The newspaper said she knew the judge was a member of the club and then asked Philip Havers KC, who had been appointed to chair the disciplinary tribunal, to recuse himself after discovering that he was as well.

Though there was no suggestion that the two men had discussed the case or any work matters or even met at the club, he acceded to the request.

Dr Proudman, who denies the charges, was one of the instigators of another open letter last month calling on judges to resign their membership of the Garrick.

Signatories to the letter to the BSB include Labour MP Apsana Begum, Dr Elizabeth Dalgarno, director and founder of the SHERA Research Group, leading family law solicitor Dr Ann Olivarius KC (Hon) and women’s rights activist Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst. Other names reflect Dr Proudman’s work on women’s rights and particularly in acting for victims of domestic abuse.

The letter said: “We do not believe that Dr Proudman’s comments about a judgment by Sir Jonathan Cohen undermine the integrity of the system or reduce confidence in it; to the contrary, we believe it takes immense integrity to publicly defend a vulnerable individual from a judge who holds significant power.

“We ask the BSB to withdraw its misguided prosecution and to issue a formal and public apology to Dr Proudman.”

It continued: “The accusations against Dr Proudman are oppressive and unjust and reflect very poorly on the BSB if they align with its priorities. It appears that Dr Proudman has been targeted unfairly by those in power to silence dissent and maintain control.

“The charges undermine the principles of free speech and accountability by tamping down criticism instead of addressing the underlying and systemic issues women face in our legal system. Rather than address misogyny, the board’s decision to take disciplinary proceedings perpetuates it.”

The writers questioned the process employed by the BSB too, saying that Mr Havers’ appointment “calls into question the impartiality of the entire prosecutorial process. We cannot see how Dr Proudman could now be afforded a fair trial in accordance with article 6”.

Accusing the BSB of double standards, the letter contrasted the prosecution with the lack of action taken over complaints Dr Proudman made to the regulator about abuse she had received from other barristers.

“It cannot be right or fair that the BSB dismissed these comments as ‘unpleasant and inflammatory’ but not serious enough to warrant disciplinary action and yet singled out Dr Proudman’s criticism of a High Court judge who is a member of The Garrick Club as being in the ‘old boys club’ as ‘seriously offensive, derogatory language’.”

Further, the signatories said, Dr Proudman’s criticism “of what she viewed to be harmful ideology is nothing like the misogyny, bullying and otherwise deleterious behaviour by barristers and judges seen every day in our courts, in chambers and in law offices”.

They concluded that the prosecution would have “a chilling effect” on other advocates and on the exercise generally of free speech by members of the Bar.

    Readers Comments

  • Tony says:

    Whites always get preferential treatment at the Bar, there is evidence to back this up in the 2013 diversity report. Ba white Barrister who sells drugs to his boyfriend who subsequently dies is still allowed to practice whilst BME barristers are dragged across burning coal. Racism will always exist at the Bar, without a eyelid raised but Dr Proudman deserves special treatment, maybe she does but the Bars record on diversity and Racism is appalling.

  • Vernon Williams says:

    I believe Lord Gardiner, then Lord Chancellor said this in the House of Lords on 25 May 1966: “Anybody is entitled to express his honest opinion about the way in which a judge has conducted a case…..the administration of justice in this country is insufficiently criticised”

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