An experienced barrister who made crude sexual comments to a woman on a mini-pupillage has been suspended for six months and told not to take on pupils or mini-pupils in future.
It is the second time that Robert Kearney, who was called in 1996, has appeared before a tribunal for misconduct involving a pupil.
On this occasion, he was found to have failed to act with integrity and diminished the trust and confidence the public placed in him and the profession through his actions, which were directed at the woman over three days in January 2015, while he was in a position of trust.
According to a brief report of the decision of the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service said he made several comments, namely that he:
- Kept his nails short “because you can’t finger women with long nails”;
- Asked Person A if she had ever had sex in her parents’ house and the details about it;
- Told her that “eating pineapple makes semen taste better”;
- Told Person A that she should wear skirts and heels instead of trousers and asked what her bra size was;
- Lent into Person A when the two were alone inside a lift, smelt her neck and asked what perfume she was wearning; and
- Spoke about sex with his wife “and was physically too close to Person A”.
He was suspended for six months and advised as to his future practice, with the tribunal saying “in terms” that he should not take on pupils, mini-pupils or anyone on work experience.
Mr Kearney was practising from Lincoln House Chambers in Manchester at the time, but left there last year, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The decision is currently open to appeal, and the full decision will be published in due course.
A Bar Standards Board (BSB) spokesman said: “There should be no place at the Bar for sexual harassment. Mr Kearney’s actions were unacceptable and constituted a breach of the BSB Handbook.
“The BSB recognises the difficulties for those who come forward with such concerns and bringing charges reflects the seriousness with which the BSB treats such conduct. The unacceptable nature of this conduct is reflected in the decision of the tribunal.”
In 2018, he was reprimanded and fined £1,000 for his “disgraceful” drunken behaviour towards a male pupil at an informal Bar Mess event.
The pupil complained that Mr Kearney put his arm round him and made a number of “uncomfortable, hostile and intimidating” statements, including asking the pupil questions about his sexual activity.
Among the mitigating factors found by that tribunal were that it was an isolated act.
That tribunal reported too that the barrister had suspended his application to be a pupil supervisor and agreed to “absent himself for 12 months” from Bar Mess events.
In January, the BSB and the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service announced a review of its sanctions guidance following criticism of sentences handed out in a series of sexual misconduct cases that have been widely criticised for being inadequate.
Last week, the BSB was urged to give tribunals a clear and immediate message that they can depart from the current sanctions guidance for sexual misconduct cases.
The lack of robust sanction for barristers who seek to sexually harass women “does much to perpetuate the crisis of retention of women at the Bar”, it was argued.