'Anti-woke' barrister loses £3m discrimination claim against chambers

'Anti-woke' barrister loses £3m discrimination claim against chambers

August 18, 2022

‘Anti-woke’ barrister who was fired for describing a black schoolgirl as a ‘stroppy teenager of colour’ loses £3m discrimination claim against his chambers

  • Jon Holbrook said he was unfairly treated for his socially conservative beliefs 
  • Tribunal ruled out his claim because he did not bring it within three months
  • Barrister was fired after refusing to remove a tweet about pupil Ruby Williams
  • Mr Holbrook was cleared of misconduct last August by the Bar Standards Board

An ‘anti woke’ barrister fired for tweeting about a ‘stroppy teenager of colour’ has lost a £3million discrimination claim against the chambers that sacked him.

Jon Holbrook claimed at an employment tribunal that he had been unfairly treated for his socially conservative beliefs when he was expelled from his chambers in January 2021.

Mr Holbrook was dismissed in January 2021 after tweeting about pupil Ruby Williams who had won £8,500 from her Church of England school in east London after claims it racially discriminated against her due to her Afro hairstyle.

Commenting on the case, Mr Holbrook, a member of UKIP, tweeted: ‘The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour.’

Following his tweet, lawyers at Cornerstone Chambers on Gray’s Inn Square, London, where the barrister of 30 years worked, asked him twice to remove the comments before expelling him when he refused. 

Seven months later the Bar Standards Board cleared Mr Holbrook of misconduct after concluding that he was voicing his ‘personal political opinion on a piece of legislation’.

But an attempt by Mr Holbrook to sue the chambers, whose members include four QCs, for discriminating against him for his beliefs was today thrown out – because he had waited too long to bring it.

Jon Holbrook (pictured), a senior barrister who was kicked out of his chambers for calling a mixed race schoolgirl ‘a stroppy teenager of colour’, has lost a £3million discrimination claim against his fellow lawyers who sacked him

At a preliminary hearing in central London the tribunal had been told: ‘(Mr Holbrook) is a social conservative in the manner of the late Professor Sir Roger Scruton and in particular he is a critic of identity politics.

‘Accordingly, he believes in the importance of nation, community and family and on finding ideas that members of society can share, whereas emphasising one’s race, sex, sexuality and gender draws attention to characteristics that are exclusive, rather than inclusive.’

Mr Holbrook contends that his tweet was an ‘expression of the conservative belief that it is important to emphasise what people can share, whereas the modern-day left, particularly on the issue of race and culture, tend to celebrate what makes people different’.

Demanding to be allowed to return to full time work as a barrister and £3 million in compensation, he alleged that the members of the chambers had victimised, harassed and discriminated against him following his tweet.

Ruby Williams (pictured) won an out-of-court settlement from her school for alleged discrimination after they sent her home, saying her Afro hair had breached dress policy

He claimed he was treated ‘less favourably’ because he espoused ‘conservative beliefs such as ones that challenged identity politics, multiculturalism and ‘woke’ ideas’.

However, resisting his claim, Cornerstone argued that their decision to expel him was not related to his overall philosophy.

The chambers argued: ‘The catalyst for action was not (Mr Holbrook’s) ‘socially conservative’ views, which he had been expressing in publications and social media for many years, but a single tweet, apparently insulting a mixed race girl by reference to her colour and insinuating that she was (i) stroppy, and (ii) should not be – as a person of colour – empowered.

‘(The chambers) acted as they did because of the Tweet (and in particular because it was offensive and regarded as discriminatory), and not because of (his) ‘social conservatism’.’

Under tribunal rules, discrimination claims of this kind have to be submitted within three months. However, Mr Holbrook waited five months before he made his claim, the tribunal heard.

The barrister claimed the delay was due to his initial belief that his case would not be successful under equality laws and asked for the time limit to be extended.

Commenting on the case, Mr Holbrook, a member of UKIP, took to Twitter to slam The Equality Act for ’empowering the stroppy teenager of colour’

Judge Jillian Brown rejected this, saying: ‘On the facts, his failure to bring his claim in the three month limitation period was his own considered decision.

‘He did not rely on advice from others. He did not conduct any research into discrimination law time limits.

‘He was well aware of the three month time limit for bringing claims to employment tribunals, particularly in relation to unfair dismissal claims.

‘He is a barrister of longstanding call. He could easily have conducted his own research and established the time limits for his discrimination claim. ‘

Miss Williams had been repeatedly sent home from Urswick School in Hackney, east London, over a period of more than three years, starting in 2014 when she was just 14.

She was constantly policed by staff over her hair, according to her father Lenny.

The school had previously said Afro hair, including buns, should be of ‘reasonable size and length’. But following a complaint, the guidelines now say only that hairstyles should be ‘reasonable and should not impact on other students’.

After the case was settled the school’s governors said they were ‘hugely distressed if any child or family feels we have discriminated against them’, adding: ‘We do not accept that the school has discriminated, even unintentionally, against individual or groups.’

Ms Williams’ father Lenny (pictured left with Ruby centre and mother Kate right) said the schoolgirl was constantly policed over her hair by staff at Urswick School in Hackney, east London

Mr Holbrook said he had resigned before the decision to expel him.

In an article for The Critic , he wrote: ‘The only reason that chambers proceeded to expel me, despite my resignation, was because the salivating attack dogs wanted some red meat to chew.’

Earlier this year Mr Holbrook won an appeal against a £500 fine he received for an ‘offensive’ tweet about Muslims.

A disciplinary panel had originally sanctioned him for claiming ‘free speech is dying and Islamists and other Muslims are playing a central role’ in a tweet to a Muslim journalist.

But he successfully argued that the tweet was not serious enough to warrant sanction.

He went on to take a swipe at ‘wokesters’ and at his regulator, the Bar Standards Board [BSB], for investigating him, claiming they are a ‘playground bully’.

The Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS) appeal hearing was told Mr Holbrook faced disciplinary action over 18 tweets, 17 of which he was cleared over including the one about Miss Williams.

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