Pupil victim of sexual assault by barrister “let down by system”

Barristers: Consultation closing

A female victim of sexual assault by a male barrister has spoken about how she was let down by her chambers, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service (BTAS).

The now junior barrister, known only as ‘F’, told her story to the criminal law barrister behind the high-profile ‘Crime Girl’ blog and Twitter account as part of the latter’s submission to the review of the BTAS sanctions guidance, consultation on which closes today.

Crime Girl – who posts anonymously herself – said F approved the contents “regardless of the potential for ‘jigsaw identification’” and said it could be published online.

F shared the same chambers as a male barrister who repeatedly sexually assaulted her while she was a pupil.

Between the reporting of the sexual assault and the tribunal hearing, she was offered a tenancy, which she accepted.

“However, she was not supported by her chambers during the BSB investigation nor the prosecution, nor was she supported by the BSB or Bar Council.

“F was effectively left to her own devices, but with a significant expectation on the part of the BSB that she would engage with each request they made, without issue.”

Though her chambers found serious misconduct proven after its own investigation, it only fined the barrister and allowed him to continue working.

“During their inquiry they had clerked the two barristers separately, but once their inquiry had concluded, they clerked them together, with the result that they sent the respondent barrister and F to act for parties in the same case.

“This compounded F’s distress and left her astounded at what she was experiencing. This decision was taken while the BSB investigation was still ongoing.”

The BSB then decided to prosecute, but the response recorded how “uncomfortable” F found the hearing to be.

“Having been objectified and deeply humiliated in the most personal way by the man who attacked her, she was then excluded from the parts of the hearing where his personal mitigation was heard.

“She states ‘the system as it stands goes a long way in perpetuating the power imbalance between perpetrator and victim’.”

Despite the sanctions guidance referring to the impact upon the victim, “no one asked F what the impact had been at any stage. There was no victim personal statement akin to criminal proceedings. F was not invited to give evidence on the subject. The panel were left in complete ignorance of the true impact of the respondent’s misconduct”.

The response argued that, had he been prosecuted at the Crown Court, the barrister would have been jailed; the tribunal issued a short suspension.

It went on: “The BSB did not apply for an interim suspension, meaning this very junior barrister was left (still) being clerked alongside the member of chambers who had assaulted her.

“Despite the misconduct finding, the offending barrister could (and did) work for the entire period leading up to the suspension commencing. This understandably caused severe distress to the victim.

“F was left feeling powerless, and that she had no choice but to leave chambers.”

Meanwhile, the suspended barrister was able to “diary cram”, picking up work to tide him over financially during the suspension period, which the author said gave it “less bite” and reduced its punitive effect.

“He was left on the website for some time, and the suspension was so short that it was much the same as a sabbatical or a long holiday.”

The author argued that what happened to F “should be a source of deep embarrassment for the profession”.

She urged a protocol for the handling of misconduct allegations that chambers should sign up to, while the BSB should allow for victim impact/personal statements.

She added: “Victims of sexual misconduct, dishonesty, harassment and assault should not be excluded from sections of hearings where ‘personal’ mitigation is delivered, whether or not it relates to the respondent’s health.

“It can be subject to reporting restrictions in the usual way, but the exclusion of the victim is inappropriate. Those who have been found to have violated others should forfeit their right to privacy over matters they wish to pray in mitigation.”

Crime Girl also branded as “unacceptable” a BTAS panel finding that someone behaved a certain way due to events in their private life.

She said personal mitigation could go to sanction but – referring to the case of ‘upskirting’ barrister Daren Timson-Hunt – said “it is entirely wrong for panels to be able to find a causal link between entirely separate personal mitigation about a barrister’s wife and their attack upon, or predatory following of, a completely different woman”.

She said she was not aware of the BSB ever seeking an interim suspension, despite having the power to do so, when actually it should be “the norm” in cases like these.

Crime Girl has been highly critical of the sanctions guidance online and the response said it “does not ensure that barristers who commit any sort of misconduct receive appropriate penalties. This is particularly obvious where sexual misconduct is concerned”.

She argued that the sanctions guidance was “unacceptably lenient and out of step with modern societal norms”.

She highlighted the case of Michael Anthony Rowan, who was not disbarred despite being convicted of fraud, and of the various misconduct findings against Henry Hendron. “The fact that this barrister was not disbarred at any point is astonishing,” she wrote. “There have been not one, but tens of perfectly justifiable reasons to disbar him.”

Crime Girl undertook a comparison with all the other regulated professions and concluded that the Bar currently sanctions misconduct “significantly more leniently”.

“Complainants of serious misconduct do not receive support from the BSB or Bar Council at any stage, leaving them at the mercy of their chambers or employers. When suspensions are imposed, the BSB should apply for interim suspensions as a matter of routine.”

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