Barrister who humiliated black clerk in fraud trial is suspended for a year

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The Independent Online

A senior barrister who used racist language to humiliate a black clerk during a high-profile fraud trial was suspended from practice for 12 months yesterday.

Gordon Pringle, a colleague of the Labour minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal, used words that the Council of the Inns of Court ­ the disciplinary body that oversees the profession ­ said were "intentionally racist". By calling a solicitor's clerk, Eric Adusei, 35, a "blackamoor" and telling a joke in which the clerk was cast in a "demeaning role", Mr Pringle had brought the profession into disrepute, the council's tribunal said.

Mr Pringle, 52, the first barrister to be suspended for racism, was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £500 costs on the two out of five charges for which he was found guilty.

The tribunal, headed by a Crown Court judge, said Mr Pringle had admitted using the word "blackamoor" in March 2000 during the Old Bailey trial of the timeshare fraudster John Palmer.

Mr Pringle said the word was a term of affection and not meant to cause offence. But the tribunal rejected this claim because it said the remark was made in front of other people, which had led to the public humiliation of Mr Adusei. Judge Faber said the term "blackamoor" was "offensive" and "race specific".

Later an Old Bailey clerk told Mr Pringle that Mr Adusei was upset by the comment, adding: "Eric does not love you any more." In response, the barrister wrote Mr Adusei a note of apology around a love heart with an arrow drawn through the middle. The tribunal, which described the message as "mocking", said: "He could have taken the opportunity to write a few simple words expressing regret. Instead he took the opportunity to write a message and to draw a heart and arrow."

Judge Faber said: "We are satisfied that your intentions were, and achieved, the public humiliation of Mr Adusei that caused the treatment of him in a less favourable way than other solicitor's clerks."

Two months later, during the same trial, Mr Pringle had joked that when the case was over they could jet off on a luxury holiday with the defendant and that Mr Adusei could serve the drinks on the plane. The tribunal said it could not be sure that the joke was made on racial grounds, but that the story demeaned Mr Adusei.

Robert Francis QC, for Mr Pringle, told the tribunal his client had since apologised to Mr Adusei for his behaviour. Written testimonies shown to the tribunal proved there was "not a racist bone in his body", he said.

Mr Pringle, who had been a criminal barrister for nearly 30 years, had worked with many people from ethnic-minority backgrounds without any problem, Mr Francis said. He urged the tribunal to treat him as a "foolish jester" who had simply misjudged the situation.

But in passing sentence Judge Faber told Mr Pringle: "Your conduct was intentionally racist and you must be left in no doubt that one conduct of racism is one too many."

The tribunal acknowledged its findings against Mr Pringle would cause him to suffer professionally and personally. But, quoting Lord Justice Rose in a recent decision of the Court of Appeal, Judge Faber said racism was "evil" and should not be allowed to flourish.

Three further charges ­ in which Mr Pringle was alleged to have called Mr Adusei a "blackie" and a "coon" ­ were dismissed.

Mr Pringle's solicitor, David Hooper, said after the findings that his client "wished to express his sincere regret for the distress and embarrassment his misplaced remarks have unintentionally caused Mr Adusei". He said Mr Pringle would consider an appeal.

The Bar Council, which brought the prosecution, said it was "regrettable" that any barrister considered the use of such language appropriate. "We hope that the result of this case will send a strong signal both to barristers and to members of the ethnic minorities that the Bar Council will act firmly against barristers where there is a prima facie case of racial discrimination or harassment," it said.