Judges accused of racism over lawyers' eviction: Barrister's claims about rent dispute denied by owners of chambers. Jason Bennetto reports

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The Independent Online
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THE HEAD of Britain's first set of black barristers yesterday accused the judiciary of evicting the group for racist reasons.

Bailiffs were used to repossess the chambers in Lincoln's Inn, central London, last Friday after a dispute over pounds 38,000 in rent arrears and a long legal battle.

Yosefaly Serugo-Lugo, who is in charge of the chambers, is being threatened with bankruptcy unless the money, which represents 18 months' rent, is paid along with pounds 5,500 court costs.

He said yesterday: 'This issue is not about money it is about race.

'If I had been a white, rather than a black barrister, I would not have been taken to court and threatened with bankruptcy.'

' pounds 38,000 is petty cash for Lincoln's Inn. They are being racist. Some people within the legal system want to get rid of black barristers.' He argued that other chambers which had similar debts were allowed to renegotiate their payments.

The owners of the chambers yesterday strongly denied the accusations and said the decision to evict was based solely on financial factors. Judges and barristers who make up the finance committee of Lincoln's Inn, a charitable trust, decided to seek a repossession order after the chambers started to get into debt in 1990.

The chambers at 9 Stone Buildings, used by 15 barristers, were set up in 1969 by black lawyers who felt they were being discriminated against.

Mr Serugo-Lugo, 51, said: 'In this profession money is not supposed to be put before principles. The decision by the Lincoln's Inn is devoid of morals and clearly race has played an important factor.'

He added: 'This is a big blow to black lawyers. It's a very negative indicator to the black Bar in this country.'

The chambers agreed a repayment schedule a year ago in addition to the pounds 2,000 per month rent, but went further into arrears when their bank withdrew its overdraft.

Captain Malcolm Carver, the under-treasurer of Lincoln's Inn, said: 'There's nothing racist about our decision to evict. Mr Serugo-Lugo has been dealt with in the same way as any tenant. He did not maintain an agreement we made and there was no way we could see that he was taking the necessary steps to repay the money he owed.'

(Photograph omitted)