Court apologises to Black barrister over staff's 'unacceptable behaviour'

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.

Criminal and family barrister Alexandra Wilson
Criminal and family barrister Alexandra Wilson (pictured) tweeted about being “absolutely exhausted” after staff at the court failed to recognise who she was several times. Source: Twitter/Alexandra Wilson

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 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.

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.

“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.”

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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