A barrister who posted a ‘racially charged’ and ‘derogatory’ tweet about a black Cambridge University student has failed to overturn his sanction in the High Court.
Martin John Carr Diggins, an unregistered barrister, was ‘upset’ by an open letter published on Twitter in 2017 by a black female Cambridge student which urged the English faculty to decolonise its curriculum and introduce postcolonial thought into its reading lists. Diggins replied to Cambridge University and the student union women’s officer on Twitter, stating: ‘Read it. Now; refuse to perform cunnilingus on shrill negroids who will destroy an academic reputation it has taken aeons to build.’
A disciplinary tribunal subsequently found that Diggins had carried out ‘a personal attack upon an individual, using gender and perceived racial-characteristics-based language to convey what is a race and gender-based insult’. It added that the tweet was ‘seriously offensive’ and likely to diminish the trust and confidence placed by the public in Diggins as a barrister. He was reprimanded and ordered to pay an £1,000 fine.
Diggins appealed the sanction in the High Court on 14 grounds, arguing that the tribunal’s findings were based on ‘untenable imputations of racism, or “potential” racism, contrary to dictionary definitions of usage’. He added that the BSB’s processes of investigation, charge and prosecution were ‘fatally flawed by political prejudice’ and the chair of the tribunal panel was from a ‘notoriously hard left chambers’ and thus biased against him.
According to the judgment, Diggins presented a 67-page skeleton argument and large volumes of written material including poems by TS Eliot and Philip Larkin. Diggins, who describes himself as a ‘native-British, white-skinned heterosexual conservative male’, claims he was ‘singled out for prosecution’ by the BSB.
Mr Justice Warby dismissed the appeal, finding ‘it was legitimate for the BSB to describe this as “offensive race-based language”, and equally proper for the panel, applying ordinary community standards, to find that it was “racially charged”. He added there was no evidence to show the chairman of the disciplinary tribunal was biased; that the appellant’s case was ‘not one of party-political bias’; and that the fine was not manifestly excessive.
Commenting on barristers’ use of social media, Warby J said: ‘I cannot accept that there is some “bright line” to be drawn between that which falls purely within the private realm, and that which is sufficiently public to engage the disciplinary jurisdiction of the BSB and the COIC tribunals. In my view this is a false point.’
He added: ‘If the argument is that every Twitter user makes a voluntary submission to behaviour of that kind, no such argument was advanced below, and I consider it to be untenable. I see no evidential or other basis for concluding that all Twitter users consent to being treated abusively or offensively.’