Black barrister takes Bar to tribunal over 'race discrimination'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Bar Council has become embroiled in an increasingly bitter row with one of Britain's leading black barristers that is set to end in a high-profile test case before an employment tribunal.

The Bar Council has become embroiled in an increasingly bitter row with one of Britain's leading black barristers that is set to end in a high-profile test case before an employment tribunal.

Peter Herbert, a judge and member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, alleges that he has been victimised by the Bar Council after twice facing disciplinary action for speaking to the media. The case, to be heard by an employment tribunal in July, is expected to pave the way for other barristers who feel they have been racially discriminated against by their profession's ruling body.

A further three black and Asian barristers are preparing to join Mr Herbert in his action, while the Commission for Racial Equality has agreed to investigate his claims.

Mr Herbert, who also chairs the London Race Hate Forum, will submit evidence to support his claim that a disproportionate number of black and Asian barristers are tried for disciplinary offences. His lawyers will contrast this with the fact that only two white barristers have been disciplined for racism.

Mr Herbert made legal history three years ago when he became the first barrister to be called before a tribunal for allegedly breaching the Bar's code on publicly commenting on cases in which they are instructed. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Next week he is to face a second hearing after being accused of breaking the same rule when he defended the social worker Carole Baptiste, his client, after she was convicted of failing to testify in the inquiry into the death of the eight-year-old Victoria Climbie.

Lord Laming, the Climbie inquiry chairman, complained to the Bar that Mr Herbert breached his professional rules when he described the prosecution of Ms Baptiste as an example of institutional racism. Ms Baptiste was the first person to be prosecuted for obstructing a public inquiry. Mr Herbert is alleged to have made the comment on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 28 August 2002.

A number of senior public figures have written to the Bar to express their support for Mr Herbert. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, says: "You continue to be quite rightly recognised for your commitment to issues of equality and fairness." Mr Herbert has received similar letters of support from Lord Ouseley, a former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, and Lord Justice Sedley, a Court of Appeal judge.

The employment tribunal case will hear evidence of how a number of white barristers have escaped disciplinary action even after being convicted of a criminal offence. Mr Herbert will contrast this with the cases of two other black barristers disciplined after becoming embroiled in business disputes.

The Bar Council is to defend the case. A spokesman declined to comment on it, but said: "The fact that 20 per cent of new entrants to the Bar are from ethnic minority backgrounds is clear proof that the Bar as a profession is the most attractive to them that there is in the country. We also stand by our record on having the first and most comprehensive equality code there is."