A security guard has been suspended after a barrister complained she had been told to ‘spread your legs’ during checks on entering court.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service confirmed on Friday evening that an initial investigation had established the court security officer ‘did unintentionally use inappropriate language’ when he conducted the search.
The tweeted statement added: ‘He has since been suspended by his employer, pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation’.
The response followed a tweet from barrister Becky Owen, who asked the chief executive of HMCTS why such language had been used towards her by a male security officer at Bromley Court on Friday morning. Having queued for 20 minutes, Owen said she had been instructed to empty the entire contents of her bag, but she declined to do this in public and asked to do it in private. When security said they were too busy to do this, guards initially refused Owen entry before a different officer intervened. Once she was through the scanner, she was told to wait and then the 'spread your legs' comment was made.
In her initial response, HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said: ‘Happy to pick up the issue and further reinforce our guidance - though if guards can’t see into your bag well they may ask you to empty it enough for them to see. We do also ask for a thorough search - which may include being asked to stand in a particular way.’
She later added: ‘Given it was a male guard, no female was available, and the language used (and way it was said?) wasn’t appropriate, I will take this up on your behalf.’
Owen later said she had initially thought of it as ‘typical’ poor treatment of advocates by HMCTS, but she had since read that a colleague was singled out for the same treatment because she was female.
She asked HMCTS to commit to having a female member of security staff at the Bromley site while the investigation is carried out.
In one of many replies to Owen’s tweets, criminal barrister Richard Gibbs said: 'We need to be less compliant more often as we are being treated appallingly and must stand up for ourselves. It never used to be like this yet rather suddenly we are all being treated as suspicious somehow. Security is good, if properly used.’
The incident comes as the court service confirmed plans to expand a pilot scheme for legal professionals to get easier access to court buildings.
The pilots has been running since September and will finish next month, and could be extended nationally if successful.
From Monday, the app for gaining entry will be available to use at Chester Crown Court, Nottingham Crown Court, Portsmouth Combined Court, St Albans Crown Court and Swansea Crown Court.