A Lancashire solicitor-advocate has hit back at what he describes as judicial bias against solicitor-advocates after a Crown court judge criticised him for dressing ‘like something out of Harry Potter’.
Alan Blacker, a solicitor-advocate at the Joint Armed Forces Legal Services in Rochdale, had been representing Andrzej Wojcicki, who was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and jailed for five years.
At the end of the trial, after the defendant had been taken down but while the jury and press were still in court, the judge, His Honour David Wynn Morgan, reprimanded Blacker on his appearance.
Blacker, who uses the title Lord Harley when he appears before the Crown court, had attached colourful ceremonial St John Ambulance ribbons to his gown.
Judge Morgan said to him: ‘If you want look like something out of Harry Potter you can forget coming to this court ever again. I have been practising in these courts since 1978 and I have never seen a barrister or solicitor appear before these courts wearing a medal or with badges sewn onto his gown.’
The judge said: ‘Here in South Wales we had a barrister, who later became a judge, who had won during the Battle of Normandy the highest order of gallantry in a Victoria Cross. Did you ever see him wearing a medal? He would have considered it the height of vulgarity for such a thing to be done.’
He added: ‘If you ever appear before this court again dressed as you are I shall exercise my right to decline to hear you.’
Blacker said the judge also questioned his right as a solicitor to wear a barrister’s wig and gown during the trial and asked whether he was a member of the Law Society.
Blacker told the Gazette he was wearing St John Ambulance ribbons in a ‘discreet place at the bottom of my robe away from the jury’.
He said he is severely disabled with a heart condition, brain tumour, pleural issues on his right lung and arthritis.
‘I can’t help my appearance – I am overweight, I do wear my hair long, though tie it back in court and I am disabled,’ he said.
He said: ‘I believe I was attacked because I am Irish and from Rochdale and due to the snobbish, hateful attitude that some barristers and judges have towards my branch of the profession.’
Blacker explained that his family has a hereditary title going back over 1,100 years. When he appears in the magistrates’ and county courts, he said he uses the name Dr Alan Blacker, as he received a D Phil in law with economics. ‘Everyone is equal in those courts,’ he said. ‘But when I appear in the Crown court I come up against senior and treasury counsel, so I use my title.’
He said: ‘I was born in Rochdale, I’m a Lancashire lad and have never had any pretence about titles.’
But he said: ‘Solicitor-advocates need to play the game – it’s an equality of arms issue. Juries don’t understand the difference between solicitors and barristers. They think solicitors are subordinate and people will ask “when are you qualifying as a barrister”.’
Judges, he said, exploit that inequality on a ‘snobbery basis’.
He said: ‘The abuse I have received across all forms of social media in the last 24 hours means I can’t leave my hotel. The thing that upsets me more than anything is that no one has mentioned the service given to my client, which has not been criticised.’
Blacker has not yet made a complaint about the judge to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, but he said he is considering his next steps with his solicitors.
Chairman of the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates, Shawn Williams said his members do report instances of judicial bias, but he said the issue was often more one of personality.
'If you're good at what you do and do it, there is no difference you are a solicitor or a barrister,' he said. 'Difficult judges are difficult whether it is a solicitor or barrister in front of them - it's a personality issue.'
However, he said it is rarely appropriate to give an advocate such a dressing down in open court. 'A word in chambers would have been a more appropriate and expedient way of dealing with it,' he said.
Williams said he would 'take issue' with any judge who makes comment about a solicitor advocate wearing a wig - something they have been entitled to do for some years.
A Law Society spokesperson said: 'Solicitor-advocates and barristers should be treated in the same way.'