Exclusive: Barrister who called schoolgirl a ‘stroppy teenager of colour' faces £50,000 fine

·4 min read
Ruby Williams, left, was called a 'stroppy teenager of colour' by barrister Jon Holbrook, right. (Kate Williams/Cornerstone Barristers)
Ruby Williams, left, was called a 'stroppy teenager of colour' by barrister Jon Holbrook, right. (Kate Williams/Cornerstone Barristers)

A barrister is being investigated over allegations of professional misconduct after some of his tweets sparked anger among the public.

Jon Holbrook, formerly a member of Cornerstone Barristers, faces a £50,000 fine or disbarment over 18 tweets sent between March 2019 and November 2020. 

They include his description of Ruby Williams, a teenager who won compensation after being repeatedly sent home from school over the size of her Afro, as a "stroppy teenager of colour".

He also described students at Pimlico Academy, who began protesting at the end of March against uniform policies they deemed to be discriminatory, as "stroppy teenagers of colour". 

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Holbrook claims that the Bar Standards Board (BSB), which regulates barristers and specialised legal services businesses in England and Wales, told him they had launched the investigation in April, after they deemed the tweets a breach of the BSB Handbook.

He says the board has accused him of making comments "designed to demean or insult a teenager and...demean or insult others including Muslims, homosexuals and women" and tweets which "may be considered distasteful or offensive by others".

Holbrook has released a 33-page response, concluding "there is no proper basis for any charge".

The barrister, who was expelled from chambers after his refusal to delete the tweet about Ruby Williams, told Yahoo News UK: "By formally investigating 18 of my tweets the Bar Standards Board has demonstrated it is not possible to practise as a barrister whilst expressing centre-right opinions."

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"By limiting free speech to those who do not practise as barristers my professional regulator has aligned itself with the woke left and demonstrated that it is a menace to democracy which is premised on every citizen’s right to express their political opinions on issues of public interest."

In February 2020, Ruby received £8,500 in an out-of-court settlement after her family took legal action against The Urswick School in Hackney, east London.

The EHRC had claimed she had been discriminated against on the basis of her race. She was sent home while studying for her GCSEs and the school used a Year 7 photo of her with straight hair for her Year 11 yearbook.

She said the school claimed her hair was “too big”, that it distracted other pupils and blocked views of the whiteboard in class. She said she had felt “humiliated” by the experience.

Kate Williams, Ruby's mother, said she complained to the BSB in January and is "thankful to all the other people who also alerted them to Holbrook's comments."

Watch: Teenager awarded £8,500 payout after Afro hair discrimination

Kate said: "Reading his [Holbrook's] defence has made me realise that the comments he made about Ruby's case were part of an overall pattern of behaviour. I feel sad for Ruby that it took her being targeted in this way, before action has been taken about his many concerning tweets."

Kate added that Holbrook "continuously ignored my [sic] requests to discuss the details of our case yet he reads what I post on Twitter. I made a joke about Ruby getting modelling work and he has mentioned this in articles and now in his official answer to the BSB. Like most parents, I am amazed by how beautiful my daughter is but she has no desire to be a model. She is a marketing student at the University of Manchester. She is already a qualified make-up artist, a working beauty specialist and a campaigner regarding hair discrimination."

"As a teacher, my main reflection about this experience of the legal world is that I am impressed that their systems of accountability are working. I am still heartbroken that my own profession does not seem to hold each other accountable in terms of how we are treating children regarding the Equality Act 2010. We have a public duty but unfortunately schools seem to be free to decide when to follow the law and when not to."

Ruby with her parents, Kate and Lenny Williams (Williams family)
Ruby with her parents, Kate and Lenny Williams. (Williams family)
Ruby Williams with knotless braids
Ruby Williams with knotless braids. (Williams Family)

The BSB told Yahoo News UK that it does not comment on whether or not it received any information about potential misconduct by a barrister as procedures are usually conducted confidentially unless they result in a listing for a disciplinary tribunal hearing.

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