A barrister suspended for sending obscene and offensive tweets “might well have scaled the heights of the profession” had it not been for her actions outside of her practice, a tribunal has said.
But Barbara Hewson failed to heed an earlier administrative warning about her use of social media given to her by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and in fact not long after attacked the BSB and its director-general, Dr Vanessa Davies, in disparaging terms.
The ruling of the Bar Disciplinary Tribunal has been published after it announced in December that it had suspended Ms Hewson for two years over a series of tweets aimed at another barrister with whom she was in a public dispute, as well as the BSB, Dr Davies and a specific chambers.
She described the barrister as “a toxic person”, “making insane claims”, a “lunatic liar” and a “nut job”.
The tribunal highlighted one particular tweet aimed at the BSB: “At Bar Standards you have been obsequiously appeasing foreign anti-Semitic trolls for upwards of three years now. What’s wrong with your Board exactly? Closet dikey fans, closey Corbynites or just terminally stupid?”
The tribunal said this attack was “so disparaging” that it clearly undermined the public trust and confidence in the regulator and therefore in the profession itself.
Ms Hewson’s attacks on the other barrister, Bristol-based Sarah Phillimore, also included references to her daughter, which the tribunal said was a “worrying” aspect of the case.
“The tribunal was of the view that there was no satisfactory explanation from the respondent for this. The tribunal felt that this would have caused fear. It would cause a mother to fear that her child is being targeted by tweets. The respondent would know that it would cause fear as she herself suffered fear from online tweets.”
It was also “quite astonishing” that Ms Hewson wrote a blog about the child.
The tribunal noted the mitigation Ms Hewson put forward and the many references from “eminent” barristers and others she provided.
“They do great credit to the respondent,” it said. “The respondent is of great ability and great dedication. She is very able and she had, and has, talent. She is outstanding in terms of academic ability and had dedication to the task of being a barrister when she was practicing.
“She might well have scaled the heights of the profession had it not been for her misconduct outside her practice.”
In deciding on sanction, the tribunal said disbarment was “too harsh bearing in mind the balance required”, and took into account the mitigation, the context in which the tweets were sent, “and what the tribunal has been told about where and how things went wrong for the respondent in spite of her ability”.
At the same time, the misconduct was premeditated and persistent, and she attacked the BSB shortly after it issued the administrative warning.
The tribunal said that, but for Ms Hewson’s admissions and mitigation, it would have suspended her for three years, but concluded that two was sufficient.