A male barrister who made crude sexual remarks to a female work experience student has failed in his bid to have his six-month suspension reduced.
In March 2021, Robert Kearney was found guilty of three charges of professional misconduct towards a mini-pupil, known only as Ms A.
The case was one of several that put a spotlight on the culture of the criminal bar and was cited by critics who supported stronger sanctions for sexual misconduct by barristers.
Today the High Court upheld the sanction imposed on Kearney by the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service. It also rejected Kearney’s other arguments that the case against him had been unfair due to the delay between the alleged misconduct and Ms A’s complaint to the Bar Standards Board.
Kearney, who was called to the bar by Inner Temple in 1996, was found to have engaged in ‘inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature’ over the course of a three-day mini pupillage in 2015.
The Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service found that the barrister, who was in his 40s, made several inappropriate comments towards the 19-year-old female mini-pupil.
It found that he had asked her bra size and told her that she should wear skirts and heels instead of trousers.
Kearney was found to have told the mini-pupil that he kept his nails short 'because you can’t finger women with long nails' and that 'eating pineapple makes semen taste better'.
He also asked if she ever had sex in her parents’ house, told her about sex with his wife, and sniffed her neck while they were in a lift together and asked what perfume she was wearing.
The events took place in January 2015 when Ms A was studying law at university and working as a waitress at a restaurant which is in the same building as Kearney’s chambers, which was then Lincoln House Chambers, in Manchester. He has since left.
When the woman complained to her mother, aunt and boyfriend (now husband), they advised her not to make a fuss for fear of harming her career. She reported Kearney to the Bar Standards Board in 2018, after reading a press report that he had been fined £1,000 for inappropriate drunken behaviour towards a male pupil barrister at a social event in 2017.
Kearney had denied any wrongdoing and said that he did not remember having the woman as a mini pupil.
In a written ruling, Mr Justice Soole said: 'I am not persuaded that the Tribunal was wrong to impose the sanction which it did'.
In particular, he said that Kearney had been in a position of power and acting in a supervisory role over Ms A.
He said there were also a number of aggravating features, including Kearney’s failure to accept responsibility for his actions, which included premeditation; the significant negative impact on the victim; and an earlier disciplinary finding against him.
Soole J said: 'There can be no disagreement with the tribunal’s conclusion on the gravity of the matter and its serious effect on the reputation of the Bar. It needs to be made clear that this type of behaviour by a member of the Bar is entirely unacceptable and will be met with an appropriate sanction.'
The BSB has since toughened up its sanctions guidance for barristers found to have been involved in sexual misconduct. The new guidelines came into force at the start of this year.
A BSB spokesman said: 'We are pleased that the High Court has upheld the decision of the disciplinary tribunal in this case. Sexual harassment is completely unacceptable at the Bar and the High Court recognised that this was a good reason for the tribunal to have imposed the sanction which it did.'