The barrister who caused a storm of outrage for tweeting that “The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour” has been expelled from his chambers.
Jon Holbrook was expelled following an extraordinary meeting of the members of Cornerstone Barristers yesterday – although he said that he had in any case resigned four days before.
In a statement, the chambers said: “The expulsion followed an investigation into tweeting from Mr Holbrook’s personal Twitter account. Members were clear that statements made on social media by Mr Holbrook were irreconcilable with membership of Cornerstone Barristers.
“Cornerstone Barristers reiterates its repudiation of the contents of Mr Holbrook’s particularly offensive tweet on 17 January at 09:34hrs and all that it insinuated. Mr Holbrook’s views have never reflected the views of these chambers. We unequivocally condemn discrimination in all its forms.”
He published his comment on 17 January in response to a tweet from the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlighting a video it had made telling the story of a Black girl, Ruby Williams, sent home from school because her Afro-style hair breached its uniform policy.
The commission became involved and the school agreed to end its discriminatory policy, paying damages of £8,500. Its tweet said: “The Equality Act 2010 is clear; no one should face discrimination because of their race.”
Mr Holbrook’s tweet triggered a strong response from other barristers as well as members of the public, while shadow lord chancellor David Lammy said he had shamed the Bar.
Cornerstone distanced itself from his view, but the barrister did not accede to its request that he take it down.
Writing yesterday in The Critic magazine, Mr Holbrook said he has two Twitter accounts – a professional one that identified him as a member of Cornerstone and a ‘political’ account which says he is a barrister but not where he works. The offending message came from the latter.
“My one sentence tweet on a platform designed to be polemical has ended this particular career,” he said.
The barrister said he resigned from Cornerstone four days before his explusion, having decided he no longer wanted to practise full-time.
“The attempted cancellation prompted the manner and timing of my resignation, but it was not the underlying cause. The only reason that chambers proceeded to expel me, despite my resignation, was because the salivating attack dogs wanted some red meat to chew.
“Chambers was compliant enough to jump to their barking but it made no difference to me – save to enhance my reputation as a free speech advocate.”
Mr Holbrook doubled down on his argument that he did not view the Ruby Williams case as one of racism by the school. “I saw it as challenge to school discipline by a child and her parents who were seeking a dispensation on racial grounds.”
He accused the “Twitterati” who responded to his message of giving him the choice “of being either silenced or driven out of Cornerstone”.
He went on: “The attempt to cancel me merely fortifies me in the fight against cancel culture. Those who challenge the woke agenda are likely to be pilloried on Twitter: a forum with a preponderance of the like-minded clerisy.”
The barrister added: “Over the last few years the woke have reported several of my tweets to my professional regulator, the Bar Standards Board, and in one recent case that I did for Brighton Council I was sacked immediately after winning it when a Guardian journalist asked the council to look at my Twitter timeline.
“So far, the Bar Standards Board has never contacted me and I assume that it recognises the importance of my right to speak freely.
“But if it were to bend the knee before the woke, then it would cement the view that barristers must either be Guardian-reading liberals or must resolve never to speak publicly of their own opinions.”
Ruby’s mother, Kate Williams, tweeted in response to the article: “How has this man, tried to make what he chose to say about my daughter, about him being a victim? My mind literally boggles.”
In a Twitter thread responding to the expulson, Ruby Williams asked: “I would love for anyone to explain to me what ‘racial privilege’ I was experiencing when I was asked if I had ‘ever heard of relaxers’ or told that I could have ‘bright blue hair as long as it was smaller’. When a photo of me with my natural hair was taken down in a classroom.
“Where was my ‘racial privilege’ when a teacher put their hands in my hair in a PE changing room? When I was told my hair was a ‘distraction’ or could ‘make contact with’ other students whilst seeing other students get to wear their hair however they wanted to.”
She added: “Thank you to Jon for reminding me just how much I went through because of that policy, and how hard I need to work to make sure that school uniform policies are ‘required to accommodate cultural differences’. Nobody should be forced to assimilate in order to make you comfortable.”