A single tweet criticising a politically correct court decision has cost a London barrister his career.
Jon Holbrook, a top-ranked barrister with an unblemished professional record and thirty years at the bar, was expelled by his chambers after social justice warriors took exception to his comment on a court case involving alleged racial discrimination.
Here is the tweet that got him cancelled:
The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour. https://t.co/XLZYQg1Lmw
— Jon Holbrook (@JonHolb) January 17, 2021
Holbrook subsequently fell victim to a Twitter pile-on by the usual offendotron suspects. One of them, inevitably, was Labour MP and Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, who tweeted “You shame the Bar”:
What a pathetic response from a Barrister. No one should be discriminated against because of their race, or because their hair is different.
You shame the Bar and undermine your profession. https://t.co/S7P8LVo6TU
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) January 25, 2021
But the outrage was dishonest and confected. Holbrook has defended himself in a closely argued piece for The Critic, which makes it abundantly clear that neither of the charges levelled against him by the Twitch hunt mob were reasonable or tenable.
He was accused of ‘attacking a vulnerable girl.’ But Ruby, the young woman in question is now 19 years old and had never sought anonymity, and has spoken out publicly about her case.
He was accused of being racist for using the phrase ‘of colour’. But this was germane to the case and without it, the comment would have made no sense. As Holbrook says: ‘To use the language of the Equality Act: Ruby had a “protected characteristic” (her race) which was the basis on which her legal challenge was brought and succeeded.’
The background to the case is that Ruby Williams was suspended by her school for breaking its uniform policy which required ‘Afro style hair, including buns, to be of a reasonable size and length’. Her parents decided that this was justification for a three-year court battle, from which they emerged with fairly paltry compensation of £8,500. The school, meanwhile, abandoned this aspect of its uniform policy. (Though to castigate a school for asking for hair to be of ‘reasonable’ size and length seems decidedly unreasonable).
In an earlier piece for Conservative Woman, Holbrook laid out in detail his concerns about the court decision. Essentially, his argument is that using race or religion as a battering ram against school uniform policy is a menace to society: it detracts from school discipline; it promotes division (in the guise of healing it); it removes from headteachers the ability to use their good sense to decide what uniform policy works best for their school.
For the left, it’s all about race — or, in the case of Islamic schoolgirls campaigning against hijab bans — religion. Here, typically, is how Huff Post reported on the Ruby Williams case. ‘Rules against racist hair discrimination must be toughened up’.
But for Holbrook, it’s partly about cultural cohesion and the integrity of the education system:
‘….Schools should be able to set their own policies without legal constraint because headteachers and governors know best how to address community need. The [Conservative Woman] article noted how a primary school in Newham, east London, had “decided to tackle the problem of multiculturalism with a 2016 policy that outlawed the hijab for girls under eight”. The policy was introduced after the headmistress noted how very few of her schoolchildren thought they were British because they identified as Indian or Pakistani.’
And partly, it’s about freedom of expression and the increasing pressure put by so many professions (most definitely including the law) on anyone who doesn’t conform with woke orthodoxies.
Has society become so intolerant towards those who challenge the woke agenda that it is no longer possible to counter this political discourse while practising as a barrister (or any sort of professional)? Over the last few years the woke have reported several of my tweets to my professional regulator, the Bar Standards Board, and in one recent case that I did for Brighton Council I was sacked immediately after winning it when a Guardian journalist asked the Council to look at my Twitter timeline. So far, the BSB has never contacted me and I assume that it recognises the importance of my right to speak freely. But if it were to bend the knee before the woke, then it would cement the view that barristers must either be Guardian-reading liberals or must resolve never to speak publicly of their own opinions.
The answer to that question he asks in the first sentence is, sadly, ‘yes.’
Holbrook has decided to give up his career as a barrister because it’s the only way he can speak freely. He now intends to become a professional advocate, instead.
Thirty years ago, I began my legal career doing pro bono unfair dismissal cases for women sacked for being pregnant. I will now finish my legal career with pro bono unfair dismissal cases for women sacked for saying that a woman does not have a penis. The attempt to cancel me has not and will not work. It merely fortifies me in the fight against cancel culture.