Male barrister disbarred for sexually harassing female pupils

Manchester Crown Court: Mini-pupil harassed

A male barrister who told one pupil that she needed to have sex with senior members of the Bar to be successful and another that she was frigid has been disbarred.

Robert Michael Kearney, called in 1996, was also found to have engaged in lewd conduct towards a mini-pupil.

Alongside the disbarment, the Bar disciplinary tribunal imposed an immediate suspension of his practising certificate pending any appeal.

The decision follows a six-month suspension in 2021, when he was found to have made crude sexual comments to a woman on a mini-pupillage and told not to take on pupils or mini-pupils in future. The High Court rejected his appeal.

The misconduct involving the pupils took place on consecutive days in February 2020, first at a social event organised by his then chambers, Lincoln House Chambers in Manchester, and then at a bar.

According to the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service, Mr Kearney “inappropriately commented on the appearance” of Pupils A and B whilst both were guests at the event, including remarks about their eyes and figures.

He told each that she was “beautiful” and “gorgeous”, while also making “inappropriate contact and hand placement” with them over the course of the evening.

Also at the chambers event, he asked Pupil A how many older men and how many senior members of the Bar she had slept with.

Mr Kearney then told her: “You need to have sex with senior members of the Bar, then you will be successful… You have not slept with a man until you have slept with an older man. You need a man with more experience.”

Further misconduct took place at the Mojo bar in Manchester, where Mr Kearney sat “uncomfortably close” to Pupil B.

He similarly told her that she needed to have sex with an older man, that she needed someone more experienced to show her a good time, and that he was such a man.

He asked Pupil B how many men she had slept with, the age of the oldest man she had slept with, and if she was in a relationship.

The tribunal recorded too that Mr Kearney told Pupil B that she needed to go and have “fucking sex”, and that she was frigid.

Separately, Person A was on a mini-pupillage in July 2018. After a sentencing hearing at Crown Square in Manchester, in a video conference room after a link to a prison, Mr Kearney complimented her dress, asked where it was from and then pulled down the back of the dress in an effort to read the label.

Walking down the concourse afterwards, another woman dressed in a brightly coloured track suit walked by. “Mr Kearney looked Person A up and down and said, ‘I bet you would look good in that’,” the tribunal said.

Three days later, in response to Person A saying that she could not attend a social gathering after a court hearing with other barristers who were involved in a trial where Mr Kearney was a junior, he said: “That’s a shame. I put on clean boxers just for you.”

The full ruling of the tribunal has yet to be published.

In 2018, Mr Kearney was reprimanded and fined £1,000 for his “disgraceful” drunken behaviour towards a male pupil at an informal Bar Mess event.

Sara Jagger, director of legal and enforcement at the Bar Standards Board, commented: “The tribunal’s decision to disbar Mr Kearney demonstrates that sexual harassment is manifestly incompatible with the high standards expected of the Bar – this type of conduct has no place in a modern, inclusive Bar.”

Photo by Stephen Richards, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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