The barrister who gave a Nazi salute to magistrates during proceedings did not also goose-step or say “Sieg Heil”, despite evidence suggesting he did, a tribunal has found.
The Bar Disciplinary Tribunal considered that one of the magistrate’s recollection of Thomas David Davidson saying “Sieg Heil” was mistaken, “but probably prompted by a consciousness of Mr Davidson having invoked a stereotypical Nazi officer”.
Another of the magistrates did not recall this but said the barrister had goose-stepped. The tribunal said “her evidence generally was affected by the passage of time”.
It was “inconceivable that no-one else would recall Mr Davidson goose-stepping if that is what he had done”.
But her evidence “did reinforce the general impression that Mr Davidson was invoking the Nazi officer stereotype”.
We reported in November that Mr Davidson, who was called in 1973, had been reprimanded and fined £250 for his conduct at Salisbury Magistrates’ Court.
The tribunal found that, after the chairperson raised with him the issue of him using a German accent during the proceedings and said it had been inappropriate, Mr Davidson looked at the bench and said “Jawohl” at the same time as raising a hand in a Nazi salute.
It held this conduct to be “seriously offensive and discreditable”, damaging public trust.
The Bar & Tribunals Adjudication Service has now published the full decision, which said the panel did not find Mr Davidson’s initial explanation that he had merely shrugged his shoulders to be credible, in view of his own evidence demonstrating what he had done.
It also did not accept as credible Mr Davidson’s claim that he spoke in a ‘European’ or alternatively a French accent, or his explanation that he was referring not to Germany but to the rules of civil law.
But the three-person panel dismissed by majority the charge that adopting a German accent and pretending to be “a German person of authority in a stereotypical manner” damaged public trust.
“The tribunal did not find this question easy… The majority was satisfied that Mr Davidson’s conduct was unnecessary (as he accepted) but that it was not intended to offend, rather that it was a misplaced attempt at humour.
“That was how it struck two of the witnesses. In the majority’s view, adopting a stereotypical German accent would be regarded by a reasonable and fair-minded member of the public as in poor taste, but not as likely to diminish the trust and confidence placed by the public in him or in the profession.
“In the majority’s view, if Mr Davidson had simply apologised when the matter was (appropriately) raised by the bench, then the matter would have gone no further. The minority member took a different view, which shows that it is a nuanced judgment.”
The tribunal concluded that it was a “moment of madness” by the barrister. His conduct “was intended to be, and was, offensive and disrespectful to the bench, who had acted entirely reasonably in voicing their concerns”. It was “not merely misplaced humour”.
Mr Davidson had also shown a lack of insight into his conduct: “No apology was offered at the time, and although an apology was offered later, it did not accept the facts as the tribunal has now found them to be.”
In mitigation, the tribunal said there was no evidence that members of the Bench were offended, while no members of the public were present.
“The tribunal also found that the evidence of Mr Davidson’s good character should carry some weight. The tribunal did not consider that there was any risk of repetition.”