A barrister and former UK Independence Party candidate who asked a female colleague to dance ‘crotch to crotch’ and tried to kiss another during his Chambers’ summer party, has successfully appealed against a fine.
Stephen Howd was fined £1,800 in May last year after he was found to have acted inappropriately towards three female colleagues at his former workplace Zenith Chambers. He was also found to have taken the right hand of one of the women and ‘attempted to kiss her on or near the lips’ and referred to a colleague as a ‘good girl’ while poking her in the breast area.
Howd, who stood as UKIP candidate for Scunthorpe in the 2015 general election, appealed against the Bar Tribunal and Adjudication Service’s finding of guilt while the Bar Standards Board, which brought the case, appealed against tribunal’s ruling, arguing that a more severe sanction should have been imposed.
But in a High Court judgment handed down today Mrs Justice Beverley Lang accepted Howd’s appeal after taking into account new medical evidence.
According to the judgment, although Howd’s ‘inappropriate and at times offensive’ behaviour could have diminished trust in the profession his condition should have been taken into account.
‘If the public was aware that his behaviour was a consequence of a medical condition, and so lacked any reprehensible or morally culpable quality, it would be unlikely to diminish their trust and confidence in the profession or in Howd as a barrister, provided he was fit to practise,’ Lang wrote.
The medical condition is not disclosed in the judgment but Lang wrote that it was described in a ‘confidential annex’.
Lang added: ‘In light of the further medical evidence … I have concluded that the tribunal misunderstood and misapplied the medical evidence, and thus assessed Howd’s conduct on an erroneous basis. The medical evidence established, on the balance of probabilities, that his inappropriate, and at times offensive, behaviour was a consequence of his medical condition.’
Lang said that Howd had also consumed large quantities of alcohol ‘likely to have been a response’ to the onset of his condition.
‘In these circumstances, Howd’s behaviour plainly was not reprehensible, morally culpable or disgraceful, as it was caused by factors beyond his control. In my judgment, it did not reach the threshold for a finding of serious professional misconduct,’ Lang added.
A spokesperson for the BSB said: ‘We note the judgment of the court. Whilst disappointed, we have no further comment.’