The head of the UK’s court service has apologised to a Black barrister after she was mistaken for a defendant three times in one day by staff.
Alexandra Wilson, a criminal and family barrister, tweeted about being “absolutely exhausted” after staff at the court failed to recognise who she was several times.
Kevin Sadler, the acting chief executive of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, apologised to Ms Wilson, saying it was “totally unacceptable behaviour” and added an investigation was being launched.
In her tweets, Ms Wilson said she “needed to shine a light” on the problem because “so many people like me seem to experience the same thing”.
She said when she arrived at court on Wednesday (local time) a security officer asked for her name so he could find it on the list of defendants.
I thought I’d explain what happened today because I’m absolutely exhausted and tbh I think a light needs to be shone on this. Especially given so many people like me seem to experience the same thing.— Alexandra Wilson (@EssexBarrister) September 23, 2020
First, the security officer asked me what my name was so he could ‘find [my] name on the list’ (the list of defendants). I explained I was a barrister. He apologised and guided me through security.— Alexandra Wilson (@EssexBarrister) September 23, 2020
At this point I tried to shrug it off as an innocent mistake.
“I explained I was a barrister. He apologised and guided me through security,” Ms Wilson said.
“At this point I tried to shrug it off as an innocent mistake.”
After meeting with her clients she then tried to enter a courtroom to discuss a case with the prosecutor, but a member of the public told her not to go in, mistaking her for a journalist.
“I asked why and she said because it’s a court, only lawyers can go in. She said I was a journalist,” Ms Wilson said.
At the door a member of the public told me not to go into the courtroom. I asked why and she said because it’s a court, only lawyers can go in. She said I was a journalist.— Alexandra Wilson (@EssexBarrister) September 23, 2020
The usher (the one person who recognised I was a barrister today) said to ignore her and to head on in.
She was then told by an usher who knew who she was to ignore them and go in the courtroom.
As soon as Ms Wilson entered the court, she was stopped for a third time.
“As I opened the door, a solicitor/barrister said I needed to wait outside court and said the usher would come outside and sign me in and the court would call me in for my case,” she said.
“I explained I’m a barrister. She looked embarrassed and said, ‘Oh, I see.’”
Ms Wilson was then stopped for a fourth time as she approached the prosecutor.
“Before I got there the clerk, very loudly, told me to leave the courtroom and said the usher would be out shortly,” she said.
Hello Ms Wilson, I‘m very sorry about your experience at court yesterday – it is totally unacceptable behaviour and I’m investigating the role of my staff and contractors as a matter of urgency. This is not the behaviour anyone should expect 1/2— Kevin Sadler (@CEOofHMCTS) September 24, 2020
“Before I could respond she then asked if I was represented.
“I, again, explained that I am a defence barrister trying to speak to the prosecutor.
“She looked at me, said, ‘Oh right, ok’, and continued with what she was doing.”
Speaking about the experience on the BBC, Ms Wilson said “to be completely frank I was nearly in tears”.
Ms Wilson said she had lodged a formal complaint about the incident, saying: “I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work.”
A new report by the Judicial Diversity Forum sheds light on diversity in the judiciary & the legal professions. It will help better identify challenges & increase the pace of progress.— Legal Services Board (@LSB_EngandWal) September 17, 2020
We will use our oversight role to help drive the improvements needed https://t.co/8oKmZ6m1BC pic.twitter.com/4XA9vbqXpT
Mr Sadler responded to Ms Wilson’s Twitter thread and said: “I’m investigating the role of my staff and contractors as a matter of urgency.
“This is not the behaviour anyone should expect and certainly does not reflect our values.”
Last week a Ministry of Justice report found Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people “over-represented in applications for judicial appointment”, but were “less likely to be successful”.
– Yahoo News UK
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