Last month in TCW barrister Jon Holbrook criticised the equality law that empowers schoolchildren to use race and culture to undermine school uniform policies. A few days earlier he tweeted:B ‘The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour.’ He was subsequently fired by his Chambers. Here he writes an open letter to the chairman of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales.
Mr Derek Sweeting QC
Chair of the Bar
By email to: ContactUs@BarCouncil.org.uk
10 February 2021
Dear Mr Sweeting,
In recent weeks three barristers, including me, have been on the receiving end of considerable public criticism, even though they did nothing unlawful or improper. However, the Bar Council has not made a public statement in support of any of them. Maybe the first two did not seek the Bar Council’s support but by this letter I do. I seek it not for my own benefit but for the good of the Bar and society as a whole.
Ten days ago, I was expelled from my Chambers after 30 years of unblemished practice at the Bar. My expulsion shows that it is now impossible to practise as a barrister whilst expressing conservative and populist opinions. If you are content with this state of affairs then the public should know that the Bar has become a profession for those who either hold left-wing politics or who do not publicly challenge them. If, on the other hand, you believe there is a place at the Bar for those who are prepared to challenge Guardian-reading liberals, then I look forward to receiving your response to this letter.
The three barristers who have prompted this letter are: David Perry, QC, who was censured for his decision to prosecute defendants in Hong Kong; Dinah Rose, QC, who was criticised for acting for the Cayman Islands government in an appeal against its ban on gay marriage; and me, expelled from my Chambers for challenging an equality law which, in response to a promotional video from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, I said on Twitter had ‘undermined school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour’. I have explained the circumstances surrounding my expulsion in an article for The Critic, January 31, Cancelled by my barristers’ chambers over a tweet.
Despite the importance of these three cases I cannot find a Bar Council statement supporting the rights of barristers either (a) to decide freely which clients to act for or (b) to comment freely on issues of public policy. In fact, The Times reported that the Bar Council had declined to comment on Mr Perry save for effectively distancing itself from him with a statement in which you stated that you were ‘concerned by the arrest of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong’.
I do not expect the Bar Council to defend the content of what its members do or say but if it is to represent the interests of its members it must defend their lawful rights to act freely and to speak freely. There is a difference between defending what people do or say, which may be controversial, and defending their right to do it or say it. This principle should not be controversial in a free society where the independence of trade unions, professional bodies and other institutions of civil society is a bulwark against oppression. If that independence is compromised society is on the road to unfreedom. Putting it simply, it is imperative that the Bar Council defends openly and expressly the rights of its members to be able to speak freely without fear of penalty.
This is an open letter because the public is interested in the serious issue it addresses. Justice can be served only if the prosecution and defence are treated equally. Similarly, but on a grander scale, a democracy can function only if the protagonists and antagonists are treated equally. The response to my own case shows how it was fine for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to use the race of a schoolchild to champion the Equality Act but that my challenge to this view was met with a determined attempt to silence me on pain of seeing me driven from the Bar.
The drive to silence debate is relatively new and has been appropriately labelled ‘cancel culture’. It is invariably deployed against those who, like me, express conservative and populist opinions. As Melanie Phillips put it in The Times, February 2, Vindictiveness of woke warriors knows no bar:
‘Holbrook battles left-wing identity politics. Rose is identified with left-wing views. So while Holbrook is run out of the camp, Rose is more likely to find support . . . Nevertheless, it is disturbing to see how some who identify with civil liberties and the cause of justice . . . can turn into a nest of legally illiterate vipers when identity politics enter the scene.’
I am a critic of identity politics and wokeness more generally. My views are similar to those of the late Professor Sir Roger Scruton. The tweet that resulted in my cancellation was a criticism of an equality law that empowers schoolchildren to use race and culture to undermine school uniform policies. I explained my argument in an essay for The Conservative Woman, 25 January, Should school uniform policy have to accommodate cultural sensitivities? I reprised many of the issues that the Bradford headteacher, Ray Honeyford, had raised in 1984 in an article published under Sir Roger’s editorship and which Sir Roger praised thirty years later in The Spectator.
My point is that cancel culture is invariably used to silence conservative and populist views and this is why I doubt that the Bar Council will support my right to speak freely. I fear the Bar Council, like other professional organisations, has become a political outfit that champions left-wing views on identity politics and much else. For example, Counsel Magazine, the monthly journal of the Bar which claims to be ‘largely written by and for barristers’, presents a monthly celebration of identity politics. Its left-wing ethos is so engrained that it published an article in October from Professor Jo Delahunty, QC, that abandons the notion of a Bar based on merit in favour of her view that white straight middle-class men are an inconvenience. She made this call to arms:
‘Make a difference. Every voice, every action counts towards making the Bar less white, less straight, less middle-class and less male.’
By writing this open letter I am giving you an opportunity to establish that the Bar welcomes people of all political persuasions including those who challenge identity politics and left-wing views. But if you do not (a) endorse the right of barristers to express non-woke views and, moreover, (b) criticise the cancel culture that renders this right nugatory, then it will be clear that the Bar has become an institution for a new left-wing political elite.
If, as I fear, the Bar has become an exclusive club for a left-wing political elite then public support for it and the law in general will quickly and rightly ebb. Put simply, there is a gulf between the views of woke identitarians and the views of ordinary men and women. Your response to this letter will indicate whether that gulf is likely to widen or narrow.