High Court allows new harassment claims against barrister

Hewson: New allegations

A High Court judge has allowed three new harassment allegations against barrister Barbara Hewson to go ahead, while upholding an earlier ruling that a host of other ones should be struck out.

The claims were brought by fellow barrister Sarah Phillimore. Ms Hewson was suspended for two years by a Bar disciplinary tribunal last December for sending Ms Phillimore obscene and offensive tweets in what has been a long-running public dispute between the pair.

In the first claim, issued in February 2019, Ms Phillimore sought an injunction under section 3(1) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to prohibit Ms Hewson from publishing online or elsewhere her name, her daughter’s name and address, and any information about her daughter’s school.

The parties settled the following month on the basis of a Tomlin order, with a confidential schedule. They agreed that the claim would not be revived save for the purpose of enforcing the terms of the schedule.

However, Ms Phillimore claimed that Ms Hewson breached the schedule “only days after it had been agreed”, by sending emails about her “to more than one person with a view to undermining her reputation”.

Ms Phillimore said she had warned Ms Hewson that she would return to court if the earlier behaviour was repeated.

“She thought that the sensible way of returning to court was to file a second claim which included material in the first claim, as this had not been adjudicated upon by a court.”

Issued in April, this alleged that Ms Hewson had carried out 22 acts against the claimant, amounting to harassment under the 1997 Act.

His Honour Judge Roberts, at Central London County Court, ruled that 19 of the allegations should be struck out because they were raised in the first claim.

However, he was “troubled” by the other three, which were new and which he regarded as serious. If proved at trial, they could amount to harassment under the Act, he said.

Procedurally, HHJ Roberts decided to lift the stay on further proceedings imposed by the Tomlin order and add the new allegations to the first claim, rather than go ahead with the second claim.

Ms Hewson appealed, arguing that this was a “serious irregularity” because there had been no application to lift the stay and no adequate reasons for doing so.

Ruling in Phillimore v Hewson [2020] EWHC 499 (QB), Farbey J said she had a “good deal of sympathy” for the judge.

“He endeavoured to reach a just and proportionate outcome in relation to new allegations against the defendant which arose only days after a Tomlin order had ostensibly settled the parties’ obligations to each other.

“He was justified in refusing to strike out the new allegations and was correct to seek a proportionate procedure for the trial of [the new allegations].”

But she ruled that the circuit judge made an error of law in reviving the first claim beyond the claimant’s right to have breaches of the schedule to the Tomlin order considered by a court.

She allowed the appeal, to the extent that the first claim was not revived and varied the order of HHJ Roberts so all the allegations in the second claim, except for the three new ones, were struck out.

“If I do not take such a course, the allegations which troubled the judge will fall away – which is the opposite of what the judge correctly decided should happen to them,” Farbey J said.

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