Shadow Lord Chancellor David Lammy yesterday condemned the barrister at the centre of a racism row over his comments about the Equality Act “empowering the stroppy teenager of colour”.
Mr Lammy said: “What a pathetic response from a barrister. No one should be discriminated against because of their race, or because their hair is different. You shame the Bar and undermine your profession.”
As we reported yesterday, Jon Holbrook’s tweet was in response to an Equality and Human Rights Commission tweet about a Black girl, Ruby Williams, who was sent home from school because her Afro-style hair breached its uniform policy and then successfully challenged it under the Act.
He wrote: “The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour.”
The tweet caused a rumpus over the weekend, with Mr Holbrook’s chambers, Cornerstone Barristers, distancing itself from his views and saying it had asked him to take down the tweet. Mr Holbrook has not done so.
Ruby’s mother, Kate Williams, tweeted yesterday: “A lovely conversation with @cornerstonebarr. I reassured them that Ruby is ok. We feel very supported by them as a family and we’re impressed by how they are handling this difficult situation. We do not hold anyone else responsible for that man’s tweet. He is his own person.”
Alex Temple, a solicitor-advocate at Just For Kids Law, which worked initially with the Williams family, tweeted: “The hurt and anxiety the family went through over the discrimination Ruby experienced was heart breaking. The courage they showed by speaking about it was inspiring.
“That courage is exemplified by this casual, small mindedness from a member of the bar with a platform…
“Imagine if a Black applicant to a prestigious chambers described the outrage over the felling of the Edward Colston statue as ‘stroppy white people’. Would they find themselves in a wig and gown? Seems unlikely.”
Several Twitter users said they had reported Mr Holbrook to the Bar Standards Board, but its policy is not to comment on whether it has received any complaints, while any disciplinary process remains confidential unless it reaches a tribunal.
Among them were Jaime Hamilton QC, deputy head of Manchester set 9 St John Street, who wrote on his blog that this was the first time he had registered a complaint with the regulator.
He noted that Mr Holbrook’s Tweet had encouraged others who saw the protections afforded by the Equality Act as nothing more than an unfair advantage to the undeserving.
“It is a fuel of racism. Words matter. How we express ourselves matters. That an advocate should tweet something which emboldens such a racist to add their support to the Tweet is appalling. It is not acceptable…
“He has a right to freedom of expression. But with that right and the enjoyment of that privilege comes a responsibility.
“In my view Mr Holbrook is responsible for expressing a view which damages my profession and diminishes the standing of our profession. He hasn’t uttered a word of apology or contrition or acknowledgement of people’s concerns.
“Of course, that is not the way of the contrarian. He has not even responded to the repeated Tweets of the mother involved in the story, Tweets which contain a dignity which jars against the cowardice of silence in response.”
Noting on Twitter how his message had attracted “a lot of interest”, Mr Holbrook expanded on his views in an article on the Conservative Woman website, arguing that equality laws now “come to the aid of those seeking a racial privilege”.
He said “the beguiling notion of ‘multiculturalism’ has proved to be problematic by weakening communal and national bonds” and insisted that cases like that of Ruby Williams were examples of breaking school policy rather than racism, a word that “no longer means what it should”.
In response, Kate Williams tweeted: “Hi Jon. I think i need to explain our case to you as you’ve misunderstood. Their rules ONLY applied to Afro hair. Other pupils could do ANYTHING they wanted. Does that seem fair? Give me a bell if you want to learn the details, rather than making assumptions about us?”
Mr Holbrook has not responded on Twitter to the offer.