This is amusing

Wrong, sure, but still amusing.

Alexandra Wilson, a criminal and family barrister and the author of In Black And White, an account of the challenges faced by a young female barrister of mixed heritage, tweeted that she was "absolutely exhausted" after staff at the court repeatedly failed to recognise she worked in the legal profession.
Her tweets quickly went viral, drawing accusations of racism within the UK’s court system.
Kevin Sadler, the acting chief executive of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service apologised to Ms Wilson and said it was totally unacceptable behaviour and he would be investigating the role of his staff in the incident.
Ms Wilson said when she arrived at court on Wednesday the security officer first asked for her name so he could find it on the list of defendants.
Ms Wilson said: I explained I was a barrister. He apologised and guided me through security. At this point I tried to shrug it off as an innocent mistake.
After meeting with her client, she then tried to enter the courtroom to discuss the case with the prosecutor.
She 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.
The usher (the one person who recognised I was a barrister today) said to ignore her and to head on in.
As I opened the door, a solicitor/barrister said I needed to wait outside court and said the usher (who, by the way, was next to me) would come outside and sign me in and the court would call me in for my case. I explained I’m a barrister. She looked embarrassed and said ‘Oh. I see’.
She turned back around and I walked towards the prosecutor, ready to have our conversation. Before I got there the clerk, VERY loudly, told me to leave the courtroom and said the usher would be out shortly. 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.

From which we can learn two things. The first is that we’re a gloriously free and mobile society. That someone who, from outward appearance, could be the accused – or worse, a journalist – is in fact that stalwart pillar of the law, a barrister, shows that we are not, in fact, judging by outward appearance. Not as a society we’re not, even if a few individuals are.

Secondly, there’s a possibility that all that stuff about gowns and wigs actually has a value, eh?

25 thoughts on “This is amusing”

  1. At my school, only six formers were allowed to congregate in the middle of the hall, all other pupils had to walk around the outside. We had a Welsh English teacher who was about the height of a third or fourth year. One day he was in the middle of the hall talking to some six formers when the Deputy Headmaster walked in from behind him and boomed from the side of the hall “Boy, what are you doing there?” Acute embarrassment all round, but from that day he always wore his graduation gown and soon sported a full beard.

  2. Works both ways. I once attended court wearing a suit as the accused in a case (long story, charges dismissed) and two people approached me assuming I was a lawyer.

  3. So she believes that, as a barrister, she’s a better person than a journalist, a member of the public and a defendant, and that this superiority shines out of her in a way that strangers should be able to see immediately? Superiority complex?

  4. How was she dressed? Cleavage? Thigh? Odd how people make assumptions based on appearance without referencing skin colour.

  5. I’m not sure that I follow all the implications of this. How is anyone supposed to recognise and direct anyone to go to the right place in a court-room?

    Surely, if there are security officers checking people in, you should be carrying some identification with you to prove who you are? In most companies nowadays, workers carry passes round their necks to identify themselves, and staff are encouraged to challenge anyone not wearing a pass. Visitors usually have differently-coloured passes and are escorted.

    Does this lawyer assume that she could just walk into a court where no one knew her, be instantly treated as a barrister without even saying that she was one, and then be allowed unchecked and unrestricted access to court facilities? If that is the way she expects courts to be run I think that we have rather greater problems than she seems to think we have…

  6. There’s something we’re not being told here. I’ve been in enough courts ( No. Not what you’re thinking I have a mate & business associate who’s a lawyer. I’ve helped him out on occasions, delivering papers etc) I reckon I could spot a brief in a court, 9 times out of 10. Male or female. It’s the way they dress. Restrained. Obviously what they wear every day, not put on for the gig. And they have an air of purpose about them. They’re in their natural environment, not on foreign ground. Court officials are going to be even more sensitised to it. So how was our less than pale professional dressed? If you’re rigged out like a perp, you’re going to be taken for a perp, aren’t you?

  7. With my limited experience of courts, everybody who has business in the court carries ID around their neck. Juries, witnesses, lawyers and accused are strictly segregated and pass through different entrances, there are (very sensitive) metal detectors at the entrances.

    Was she carrying bundles of papers ? Did she have her briefs ( fnarr ) under her arm ? Was she in a smart business suit ? The whole thing smells of bullshit or at best a conflation of a number of minor incidents.

    I mean even David Lammy can get to be a QC !

  8. I’ve been fed fake news of Trumpian proportions, I thought this was the Kentucky case. Or perhaps I jumped into conclusions, after all, I am quick to judge, sometimes even before I’ve read beyond the headline.

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    An interesting comparison between this story and the next one about the French girl in Western Germany (or Alsace as the locals call it for some reason).

    I mean, stereotyping, experiences, Baylesian probablities, what’s up with all that? It should be criminal to see a mixed race girl in court and assume she is there as a girlfriend of the accused.

  10. It’s called Alsace, SMfS, because no Europeans like Germans. Even many Germans would prefer not to be German. Hence Austria, Liechtenstein & Switzerland. Why, I can’t imagine.

  11. Alsace, wasn’t there a war in the 1800’s, Frogs versus Krauts? Robert Harris is very much hit or miss but his book An Officer and a Spy is very good, about the Dreyfus case. It demonstrates Alsace and Frogs vs Krauts hating each other as a background scenery, significance of Alsace.

  12. These are not first time incidents. She is unique in her field, so this kind of thing has been going on for years. But, now, she has found a way to exploit it.

    ‘Wrong, sure’

    No. Just normal human behavior. Pioneers take the arrows. She gets no special award.

  13. ken, so he isn’t – my mistake. Perhaps he self-identifies as one.

    I see that he used to work at DJ Freeman. So did I ! I was at Fetter Lane.
    I was a messenger boy working as a temp during my holidays in the 1980s.

  14. Dennis, Tiresome Denizen of Central Ohio

    The only thing the article makes clear is that she doesn’t know enough to present herself in a way that indicates she is a member of the legal profession. And it’s not like doing so is all that difficult.

  15. I would imagine that this facing this scenario on a regular basis would become grindingly annoying, so sympathy on that basis.

    She looks young in her profile picture and Is two years qualified, so has not developed the gravitas of age and possibly not developed the recognition by staff through regular appearance in a particular court. Obviously she wasn’t wearing the wig and gown that she has on in the press photo or the court staff would be complete morons in failing to recognise that she was a barrister.

    She writes about wanting to talk to the prosecutor rather than a plantiff’s brief, so It was presumably one of the criminal courts rather than a civil or technical court (where dress is less formal), but was she “presenting” as a Barrister – business suit, briefcase, confident professional demeanour, etc.

    How much of this is due to her being mixed-race or female and how much is it due to her youthfulness and the staff’s unfamiliarity with her. How often do other junior barristers get comments of this sort. I seem to remember a junior in some legal drama, “Rumpole” or “Silk” perhaps, where this sort of misidentification was a storyline.

    Finally, Jenny Murray in her Woman’s Hour interview with her makes specific reference to her being an “Essex Girl” and her speaking voice is a fairly neutral London accent, but definitely not “posh”. Perhaps she also needs to “posh-up” her accent a bit, so that she sounds like what people expect a barrister to sound like.

  16. If she was walking into a courtroom, rather than merely into the court building, then, this being a criminal court, why was she not in full fig?

    Dunno. Maybe it’s all different now.

    No shortage of criminal barristers who sound like stevedores. And no shortage of vibrancy there, either.

  17. October, 1972. Big Boss goes into plant staff meeting, and asks, “Who’s that kid out in the warehouse? Tall, thin guy.”

    “He’s a supervisor!”

    Gamecock grew a beard afterwards, to hide the baby face.

    People make judgements base on appearance. And their experience. People mistaking her for a defendant is perfectly ordinary. Based on their experience. As she becomes more familiar, they will change.

    ‘an account of the challenges faced by a young female barrister of mixed heritage, tweeted that she was “absolutely exhausted” after staff at the court repeatedly failed to recognise she worked in the legal profession.’

    A normal person would understand that they are different, and realize that other people will change over time. Her being “absolutely exhausted” means she has limiting mental problems. Going public with her illness would ordinarily be stupid, but media loves conflict. They exploit her weakness.

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