‘The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour.’

Holbrook, a barrister, was expelled for, according to the BSB, expressing his view of the law!

This 13-word tweet was enough, following his Chambers’ intervention, to trigger Jon Holbrook’s cancellation. Unable to cope with a political challenge to the Equality Act the woke left engaged in a Twitter pile-on that resulted in Holbrook’s expulsion from his Chambers after a thirty-year career at the Bar. On principle, he refused to remove the tweet.

Exonerated – the first time

Although Holbrook’s chambers, Cornerstone Barristers, expelled him, his tweet was, as the Bar Standards Board noted, an expression of his ‘personal political opinion on a piece of legislation’ – a right that is protected in law. He has accordingly been exonerated by the barristers’ regulator and all those who called for his professional cancellation should reflect on how they behaved; and lawyers amongst them might ask if it was not they who have brought the profession into disrepute.

Standing up for democracy

Holbrook explained the important political issue that his tweet raised in this article: Should school uniform policy have to accommodate cultural sensitivities?

In the aftermath of his expulsion he wrote of the pernicious impact of cancel culture on democracy: Cancelled by my barristers’ chambers over a tweet.

Holbrook discusses the issue of cancel culture here.

Press backing for Holbrook

* The Times: Melanie Phillips defended Holbrook and argued that there is now no bar to the vindictiveness of the woke:

The Times, 2 February 2021

* The Lawyer: Zita Tulyahikayo and James Pereira QC noted that the central charge of the tweet being ‘racist’ did not stack up:

The Lawyer, 5 February 2021

* Spiked: Professor Andrew Tettenborn criticised Holbrook’s chambers for being ‘in the business of old-fashioned censorship of members’ social and political views.’

* The Critic: Professor Andrew Tettenborn notes that Holbrook’s opinions are not infrequently seen in the Mail or the Telegraph. He criticised the regulator’s actions as showing that ‘tolerance has now become vice and intolerance a sign of virtue’.

The virtue signalling left

The Social Housing Law Association – an organisation that Holbrook set up in 2005 and then chaired until 2008 – was quick to jump to a virtue signalling judgment and when challenged to explain its actions (see Holbrook’s letter here) it could not.

In a letter to the Bar Council, Holbrook challenged it to speak-up in support of free speech and to deny that the Bar is now a left-wing club where practitioners must either be woke or mute. His response to the chairman’s reply is here. Needless to say, the Bar Council’s reply merely confirmed that it is not possible to practise at the bar whilst challenging woke politics.

In April the Bar’s professional regulator, the Bar Standards Board, launched a formal investigation into 18 of Holbrook’s tweets including this one in which Holbrook defended Sir Roger Scruton against his left-wing critics.

Holbrook defended the charges (see here). In August he was exonerated for the tweet that resulted in his expulsion from Chambers (see here) as he explained here.

Exonerated – the second time

In August 2021 the Bar Standards Board cleared Holbrook of all except one the 18 tweets it investigated. Rather like the playground bully desperate to save face the BSB imposed an ‘administrative sanction’ in respect of one tweet. This sanction ‘does not constitute a disciplinary finding’ as the BSB explains here. Holbrook wrote about this twist here and his appeal notice is here.

The legal commentator and journalist Joshua Rozenberg has argued that ‘it is absurd to suggest that the tweet for which Holbrook was fined £500 could damage public confidence in the barristers’ profession’.

The Bar Standards Board sought to keep Holbrook’s appeal in private, meaning that the public would not see or hear what was said, however, a judge ruled on Holbrook’s application that it had to be in public.

In March 2022 Holbrook’s appeal against this administrative sanction was allowed. In a significant step forward for all regulated professionals the appeal panel concluded that any curtailment by regulators of political free speech must satisfy the thresholds of being either ‘seriously offensive or seriously discreditable’ and, furthermore, will then require:

a close consideration of the facts to establish that the speech had gone beyond the wide latitude allowed for the expression of a political belief, particularly where the speech was delivered without any derogatory or abusive language, rather than the manner in which that belief or message was being delivered. (para 44)

Jon Holbrook v Bar Standards Board, Case No: 2021/4441, 25 March 2022

For a word searchable version of this case, see here.