A barrister accused of ‘breathtaking arrogance’ has had a contempt finding against him set aside, but been referred to the bar’s regulator.

The Court of Appeal said Ian West (pictured) from Middlesbrough’s Fountain Chambers showed ‘wilful and deliberate disobedience’ in failing to return to court, as ordered, and demanding an apology from the judge.

But it allowed West’s appeal against the finding of His Honour Judge Kelson at Durham Crown Court that West had been in contempt of court for ‘want of procedural regularity’.

Kelson had not adhered to the procedural requirements for a contempt hearing that the court said ‘demanded strict observance’, according to the Court of Appeal, led by Sir Brian Leveson.

Leveson said the ruling should not be seen as an endorsement of the appellant’s behaviour. 

On the contrary, he said: ‘Mr West’s conduct constituted wilful and deliberate disobedience of an order of the court as an act of defiance, which is serious misconduct of a type that is wholly inimical to the proper discharge of his professional duties and, furthermore, in total disregard of his duty to the court.’

Referring West to the Bar Standards Board, Leveson said: ‘He has shown breathtaking arrogance and his total demand that the judge apologise to him was more than merely impertinent.’

Leveson said the approach of the judge had been ‘entirely in keeping’ with the need for efficiency.

‘On the other hand, the conduct of Mr West, if it was to become the norm, will cause our present system to collapse for want of sufficient funding with the risk of causing enormous damage and replacement by a process that imperils many of the hard-gained improvements designed with the interest of justice in mind.’

West had been representing a defendant in a preliminary hearing at Durham Crown Court in April.

A ‘heated exchange’ between His Honour Judge Kelson and West followed Kelson’s request for counsel to return to court in the afternoon after taking further instructions from his client.

Hearing the contempt case, Kelson said West’s behaviour was ‘far over-stepping the mark in courageously representing’ the defendant. West’s ‘deeply unpleasant style of advocacy’ was ‘highly impertinent and somewhat confrontational, if not pugnacious’, Kelson said. 

He continued: ‘Case management was deliberately thwarted by Mr West and the dignity and authority of the court were undermined by his conscious and deliberate act of defiance in failing to attend court in the afternoon.’

At the original hearing, West said his client had ‘made it clear his intention was to plead not guilty’ so a further conference was not necessary.

West told the judge: ‘Whether I attend any hearing in the case is a matter for my professional judgment in consultation with my solicitor.’ He did not return to court in the afternoon, as he had been ordered.

For West, Bryan Cox QC, acting pro bono, told the Court of Appeal the appellant believed the judge was making a ‘coded assertion’ as to the merits of the case and that he was being asked to return to court as a ‘punitive measure only’ as the prosecutor was not required to attend.

The Court of Appeal rejected West’s complaint that Kelson had refused to recuse himself from the contempt hearing and his submission that Kelson did not have the jurisdiction to order him to return to court.

Commenting on the Court of Appeal decision, West said: ‘Whilst I am obviously pleased that my appeal has been allowed and the finding that I am in contempt of court has been quashed, I am disappointed that the court saw fit to criticise my professional conduct.

‘The active, some might say enthusiastic, case management of criminal cases by judges causes difficult problems for defence advocates seeking to balance their duty to their clients with their duty to the court. I will continue to try to achieve that balance.’