‘Email threat’ barrister feared “vindictive campaign” against pupil

Email: Barrister has sought medical help

The drunken barrister who threatened a fellow member of chambers over a tenancy application did so because he believed there was a “vindictive campaign” to damage the pupil’s prospects.

Criminal law specialist Andrew Rutter of North-East set Trinity Chambers was reprimanded by a Bar disciplinary tribunal earlier this month and the full decision was published yesterday.

Mr Rutter, who was called in 1990, sent an email to the personal account of the barrister, who was one of the pupil supervisors of a pupil in respect of whose tenancy decision “there seemed likely to be some opposition”, the tribunal recorded.

The email said: “If you were to persist with your opposition then I will reveal that which you would rather keep secret. You and [a named colleague]. Feel free.”

Mr Rutter did so whilst in “an extreme state of intoxication” and the email was “reasonably interpreted as a threat and an attempt to influence the vote” on the tenancy application.

He told the tribunal that he perceived there to be “a vindictive campaign within chambers” to damage the pupil’s prospects, which he considered “egregious and discriminatory”.

The tribunal made no finding about whether that belief was well founded.

The recipient raised the matter in an anonymised way during the tenancy meeting, but Mr Rutter “immediately” confessed to it.

Trinity’s management committee asked a former member, District Judge Nicola Shaw, to determine whether a meeting to consider Mr Rutter’s expulsion should be convened.

Despite her concluding that further investigation was required, an EGM was still called but the resolution to expel him did not pass. Mr Rutter has continued as a full member of Trinity Chambers.

The recipient told the tribunal that he and Mr Rutter have maintained a professional relationship, while Mr Rutter apologised personally, and wrote letters of apology to the other member referenced in the email and the head of chambers.

Further, the tribunal said, the barrister has “sought and obtained professional medical treatment which is confidential but which we can say was sought for matters Mr Rutter believed contributed to the state of mind he was in at the time the email was sent, including alcohol use…

“We understand from the papers before us that this treatment has been sought with the encouragement of chambers.”

The “reception of his conduct in chambers has overall been tolerant”, it said.

In deciding that a reprimand was the appropriate sanction, the tribunal took account of the risk that his actions risked “damaging the particular relationships of mutual trust and privacy that exist in delicate balance in a chambers structure”.

An aggravating factor was that he has received previous reprimands for behaving irresponsibly while under the influence of alcohol.

In mitigation, the tribunal noted that this was a single incident and took into consideration “the unusual and fraught circumstances in which the offence took place”.

Mr Rutter said he has not been able to work for some time as a result of his recovery from illness.

A reprimand, the tribunal said, was “a formal indication that Mr Rutter’s behaviour was unacceptable and should never occur again”.

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