Tribunal explains three-month suspension for “sexual touching” barrister

Barrister misconduct: Impact on victims

The actions of a barrister suspended for three months for the “intentional sexual touching” of two junior colleagues could amount to sexual assault and unlawful harassment, a tribunal has found.

Craig Charles Tipper, who said he was very drunk at the time, received a £2,000 fine from his chambers as well, it has emerged.

We reported last month that Mr Tipper, a former solicitor who was called in 2018 and practises at East Anglian Chambers in Chelmsford, Essex, received the ban for behaving in a way which was likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in him or in the profession.

The full decision of the Bar disciplinary tribunal has now been published. It explained that the events occurred at a “Bar-related evening social event” and the two women were barristers who were both junior to him.

With ‘Person A’, he slipped his hand inside her dress and tights and then onto her buttocks. She removed his hand but he did it for a second time. She removed his hand once more but he put his hand back inside her dress and grabbed her breast over her bra. After she pushed his hand away, he went inside her tights to touch her buttocks again.

With Person C, he ran his fingers up and down her back, stroked her bare leg and placed his hand on her bottom.

Person A said that, due to the presence of senior members of the Bar at the event, she felt mortified and unable to say anything as she did not want to make a scene.

She went to the toilets, where she sat for a few minutes “upset and completely overwhelmed by what had just happened”. She said that, when she came out of the cubicle and saw a female colleague, she burst into tears.

Person C said: “Initially my main feeling was of confusion. I couldn’t believe it had happened… I felt gross and violated and I was also upsetting myself because, before this happened to me, I thought I would have dealt with something like this differently.

“However, in the situation, I felt as if I had been preyed upon and targeted… and that perhaps [he] had thought that he could get away with it and that I wouldn’t do anything about it. I feel angry at him and at myself for not calling it out. I felt embarrassed for me and for him.”

The tribunal said there was “no doubt” that Mr Tipper became very drunk during the evening, and he later said he had little recall of what had happened.

Mr Tipper said that he had not consumed alcohol for some time before the incident following the birth of his son. Another barrister, Dominic Woolard, who was recently fined for smacking a younger female colleague on the bottom, put forward a similar explanation.

The tribunal reported that his chambers gave Mr Tipper the “opportunity to take steps to gain insight into his behaviour”.

He took courses on one day in October 2019, on sexual harassment awareness, equality and diversity, and bullying and harassment, and later watched a Gresham College lecture by Professor Jo Delahunty QC (‘Joe’ in the ruling), “which provided an insight into the history of sexual harassment at the Bar”.

The chambers also allowed Mr Tipper to report himself to the Bar Standards Board (BSB), which he did. At a chambers disciplinary hearing, he was fined £2,000 plus costs of £500.

Mr Tipper told the BSB that he recognised that his behaviour was “utterly unacceptable” and that he was deeply ashamed and apologetic.

He expressed his apology to the two women and said he had stopped drinking alcohol. He invited the BSB to conclude that he had already been proportionately punished for his behaviour, but the regulator nonetheless referred him to the tribunal.

The panel said it had received a “quantity of material” that attested to Mr Tipper’s good character and how his behaviour had been completely out of character.

A letter from a counsellor he had seen “describes his distress and anxiety about the allegations, his regret at the suffering caused and his expression of deep remorse”.

The prosecutor said, and the tribunal agreed, that it was conduct “that is capable of amounting to, and contains elements of, both a sexual assault and/or unlawful harassment”.

Aggravating factors included that the victims were young and the effect on them; though Mr Tipper was senior to them and so, in comparison, occupied a position of responsibility within the profession, the tribunal recognised that he was nonetheless a “comparatively junior member of the Bar at the time”.

It was also a one-off, but at the same time should be regarded as ‘persistent conduct’ given the number of incidents that evening.

The panel accepted that Mr Tipper had admitted the allegations from the start, shown genuine remorse and taken action to prevent a recurrence.

It also took into account that he has already been subject to sanction by his chambers and that “the inevitable lapse of time will have been stressful for Mr Tipper and also for the complainants”.

The current sanctions guidance says the starting point for “minor offences of inappropriate sexual conduct in a professional context” – which the tribunal said was the closest category describing what had happened here – should normally be a reprimand and a medium-level fine, to a short suspension.

The tribunal unanimously decided that a three-month suspension for each charge, to run concurrently, was the appropriate sanction.

In the wake of a run of recent cases – including this one – that have raised questions about the sanctions handed out for sexual misconduct, the BSB and Bar Tribunals Adjudication Service said last month that they were reviewing the sanctions guidance.

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