Suspended barrister was victim of racism in CPS

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A senior barrister who was suspended amid accusations that she made insensitive comments about the 11 September attacks on America is to receive damages after an employment tribunal found she was the victim of racial discrimination.

The hearing in Leeds found that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failed to make the most basic inquiries into allegations against Halima Aziz, 45, before suspending her. Such inquiries would have revealed immediately that the allegations were malicious and false, the tribunal found.

The CPS took at face value officials' complaints at Bradford magistrates' court that she had started a courtroom riot between white and Asian youths on the afternoon of 11 September 2001 by describing the terrorist attacks as "all the fault of the Jews". Ms Aziz has denied this but admitted she might have said Arabs' dislike for America stemmed from its support of Israel.

In a memo, one of her managers justified the suspension by saying that the alleged comments "need to be seen in the wider context of recent riots in Bradford ... where there are known pre-existing tensions between ethnic groups". He also indicated that a failure to act left the CPS open to the kind of "massive" media outcry which followed a government department e-mail which suggested that 11 September was a good day to bury news.

But the tribunal found that the chief Crown prosecutor, Neil Franklin, and the CPS's middle management had all assumed that the complaint had substance simply because Ms Aziz was of Pakistani extraction. Ms Aziz's solicitors said that "was not an assumption they would have reached in that way if the applicant was a white male".

The CPS, an organisation deemed institutionally racist in a report by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in 2001, launched its own investigation into the suspension which, in April 2002, found no evidence that Ms Aziz had made a discriminatory remark or caused a disturbance. It lifted her suspension - but Ms Aziz has been suffering from stress and has been on sick leave.

Ms Aziz said: "I was a very trusting, sociable, talkative person and did my best to cheer people up and work towards a happy working environment but after this investigation I did not feel like the same person."

The CPS said yesterday that it was disappointed by the tribunal's finding and was considering whether to appeal. A spokeswoman said: "The judgment is based on events which go back to 2001. Since then we've made enormous progress on equality issues. We now have a race equality scheme in place and we work in partnership with the CRE. "

Maria Bamieh, of the Society of Black Lawyers, who assisted Ms Aziz, asked if CPS management should be disciplined. "The public need confidence that racism has been eradicated in the CPS," she said.

A hearing will take place in four to six weeks, when the level of damages will be decided, but it is unlikely Ms Aziz will return to work for the CPS.