QC reprimanded for “offensive” remarks in court about abuse victim


Godfrey: ordered to attend course

A barrister who claims to be a “master strategist and tactician” was reprimanded last week for making “offensive” comments about a child abuse victim while her mother sat in court.

Howard Godfrey QC said the 16-year-old “was not a young and innocent girl” as he represented her attacker in the Court of Appeal in August 2015.

The defendant had been jailed for two years for groping the child after plying her with home-made alcohol, a ruling upheld by appeal judges.

Mr Godfrey practises from 2 Bedford Row and has a personal website – ‘bestcrimebarrister.co.uk’ – that says: “Master strategist and tactician, Howard Godfrey QC is renowned as one of the UK’s best criminal barristers.”

He was charged by the Bar Standards Board with two counts of professional misconduct after the victim’s mother complained about his submissions.

A Bar disciplinary tribunal cleared him of failing to act with integrity but found him guilty on one count of behaving in a way which was likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in the profession for remarks that “implied that the victim bore responsibility for the assault, and/or were offensive and unnecessary”.

Mr Godfrey apologised to the victim’s mother in an email that read: “I have been in practice for 45 years, 25 of them as a QC. I have never been the subject of a complaint. I sincerely regret that my submissions caused offence to the complainant or her daughter.”

He told the tribunal: “Whilst I knew that some of my client’s family were present and sitting in the rows behind me in the Court of Appeal, I was unaware of the complainant or her daughter.

“It’s extremely unusual for relatives of victims in my experience to attend; it’s very common for relatives of the appellants to attend, but not the victims, who normally want to keep as far away from it as possible.

“I genuinely had no idea – you appreciate I’m facing forward, people are sitting in rows behind me.

“This is very regrettable for me and I’m extremely sorry that it happened, but it was wholly unintentional and I will obviously make every effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“My first duty, as certainly the professional members of the tribunal know, is to do everything I possibly can for my client.”

Mr Godfrey said there was no criticism of his comments by the judges in the Court of Appeal.

He added: “No self-respecting barrister would deliberately cause offence because it’s completely counter-productive apart from anything else.”

The tribunal also ordered Mr Godfrey to attend an ‘advocacy and vulnerable witness training course’ by April 2018.

The tribunal decision is still open to appeal.




    Readers Comments

  • Peter T says:

    I don’t see why the presence or absence of the complainant’s family should make any difference to the acceptability of remarks in Court.

    I wonder if there isn’t more to this story – the quoted remarks in the article do not seem very offensive, and certainly not enough to justify such an outcome which, on the reported facts, appears troubling.

    Advocates need to be free to do their best for their client, whether or not this causes offence to others.

  • Richard Gray says:

    I have to agree with the above. I don’t see that those remarks in themselves warrant disciplinary proceedings. There is often far greater detail in the ‘papers’ served and if Counsel felt that there was some culpability in the behaviour of another party that has to be expressed. i do not advocate abuse for abuse sake but where do Counsel draw the line when having to think on their feet?

    I have been in a similar situation where the press report of the case was far from accurate and the behaviour of the complainant had to be spoken of to redress the balance-should i then be subject to BSB sanction for making a professional judgement with which they disagree? -I think not!

  • Angel says:

    You do not know the facts, the bar standards board and press cannot publish the comments as they may identify the victim.


Leave a Comment

By clicking Submit you consent to Legal Futures storing your personal data and confirm you have read our Privacy Policy and section 5 of our Terms & Conditions which deals with user-generated content. All comments will be moderated before posting.

Required fields are marked *
Email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Reports

No larger firm can ignore the demands of innovation – that was the clear message from our most recent roundtable: “The law firm of the future”, sponsored by LexisNexis Enterprise Solutions. It comes in many forms, predominantly but not just technology, and is not simply a case of automating process. Expertise and process are not mutually exclusive.

Blog

20 September 2018
Simon McCrum

Why don’t lawyers do what you ask them to do?

Having been team leader, department head, division head and managing partner, I understand well the frustration (and anger) that managing partners and CEOs voice to me: “We’ve asked them a dozen times, but still they aren’t doing what we need!”

Read More