Drunk barrister “cannot remember” misconduct at Bar Mess event

BSB: “Single incident” in an otherwise unblemished career

An experienced criminal law barrister told a disciplinary tribunal that he was so drunk at a Bar Mess event he “cannot remember” his “entirely unacceptable” behaviour towards a male pupil.

As we reported last month, the pupil barrister complained that Robert Kearney put his arm round him and made a number of “uncomfortable, hostile and intimidating” statements, including that he had “buttfucked another chambers dry”.

The full decision of the tribunal has now been published. It fined Mr Kearney, called in 1996 and based at Lincoln House chambers in Manchester, £1,000 for his “disgraceful” behaviour, noting that he had suspended his application as a pupil supervisor and agreed to “absent himself for 12 months” from Bar Mess events.

Counsel for Mr Kearney told the tribunal he was trying to “mingle with junior members of the profession, which was intended to be a friendly act but because of his drunken state had had exactly the opposite effect”.

Mr Kearney admitted that his behaviour was “entirely unacceptable”, although his “drunken comments were not heard by members of the public as the event had taken place in a private part of a restaurant”. Also they did not take place in the provision of legal services.

However, the tribunal found that other colleagues were present when the behaviour occurred and were “clearly shocked” by it.

The tribunal heard that the pupil was “embarrassed, intimidated and shocked” by the comments and felt “violated, belittled and disgusted”, leaving him with a “bad memory” and reluctance to attend further Bar Mess events.

The pupil complained that Mr Kearney, whom he had never met, was “in a clearly drunken state” when he sat “uncomfortably close” to him, putting his arm round him and “engaging in excessively physical and unwanted contact”.

After asking the pupil his age, Mr Kearney directed an “uncomfortable, hostile and intimidating” question at him – whether he had “ever taken a woman dry from behind”.

Mr Kearney said he did not dispute “any of the contents of the complaint as he is not in a position to dispute the facts as he was so drunk he cannot remember what happened”.

Counsel for the Bar Standards Board (BSB) told the tribunal that this was a “single incident” in an otherwise unblemished career. Mr Kearney’s chambers was taking it “very seriously” and he was subject to internal disciplinary proceedings.

The BSB said the barrister had made a “full written apology” and sent a letter of apology to the complainant’s pupil supervisor.

The tribunal found that his conduct fell somewhere between ‘discrimination and harassment’ and ‘misconduct of a sexual nature’.

Either way, he had behaved in a way likely to diminish the trust and confidence the public places in a barrister or in the profession.

Among the mitigating factors found by the tribunal were that it was an isolated act, “Mr Kearney is clearly an asset to the Bar”, and that there were “unhappy circumstances of a serious kind which contributed to his becoming drunk”.

The chairman of the tribunal, Alan Steinfield QC, reprimanded Mr Kearney for his “disgraceful” behaviour, saying he should never have gone to the Mess that evening and trusting that the barrister had learned his lesson that, if he was “already in an inebriated state”, he should not attend professional occasions.

“Mr Kearney must remember that he is a barrister and that he attends these occasions as a barrister and must conduct himself accordingly.”

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