The bar regulator has been criticised after it failed to persuade the High Court that a disciplinary sanction against a barrister convicted of harassment should have been more severe.
The court ruled that the Bar Standards Board failed to prove that no reasonable tribunal could have decided only to reprimand Lincoln Crawford after his case was heard at the Bar Tribunal and Adjudication Service (BTAS).
In 2006, former recorder Crawford was convicted of harassing his ex-wife and her new partner and made subject to a restraining order. The BTAS, after having Crawford’s case referred to it by the BSB, determined that Crawford should be reprimanded.
However, in 2015 he was convicted of six counts of breaching the restraining order and sentenced to nine months in jail, suspended for 24 months.
The BSB again brought charges against Crawford but in June this year the tribunal once again issued a reprimand.
The tribunal noted that Crawford had, on instruction from the BSB, suspended himself from practice during the disciplinary process. It said that, but for the self-suspension, it would have also imposed a suspension.
The BSB appealed against that finding to the High Court. In judgment Lord Justice Hickinbottom and Mr Justice Green ruled that ‘nothing filed or served by the regulator suggested what a reasonable sanction might have been’. The judgment added: ‘A real difficulty faced by the court in this case was the absence of any particulars explaining why the BSB considered that the tribunal had erred. Such particulars appeared in neither the grounds of appeal, nor the BSB skeleton argument.
‘In future, in any appeal by the BSB the court will expect to see, set out in the grounds of appeal and properly elaborated upon in the skeleton, proper identification of the specific findings of fact, statements of law or principle made by the tribunal, or other errors of law which the BSB criticises and to which it objects.’
A barrister who spoke to the Gazette on the condition of anonymity said the case showed a ‘clear lack of judgment’ by the BSB.
In a detailed decision explaining its findings the court added: ’These observations are intended to assist in future BSB appeals. Clarity in the BSB’s case is important, not just to assist the court, but, crucially, to enable the respondent, whose sanction the BSB is seeking to increase, to know the case he is facing and to have a fair opportunity to respond to it.’
The High Court also ruled that the tribunal took into account the seriousness of the charge against Crawford, as well as the mitigation he put forward including his professional achievements. The anti-discrimination campaigner and former recorder was awarded an OBE in 1998.
A BSB spokesperson said: 'We note and take on board the comments of the court in this case and will be considering them.’