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Black barrister shares account of how she was repeatedly mistaken for defendant at court
24 September 2020, 10:03 | Updated: 24 September 2020, 16:48
A black barrister has shared an account of how she was repeatedly mistaken for a defendant during a day in court.
Criminal & Family barrister Alexandra Wilson posted a series of messages on Twitter explaining how she was repeatedly taken for a defendant while going about her business, saying it "really isn’t ok though. I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work."
In a string of Tweets yesterday, she revealed she turned up at work only for a security guard to try and find her name on a list of defendants due to appear in court that day.
"First, the security officer asked me what my name was so he could ‘find [my] name on the list’ (the list of defendants)," she wrote.
"I explained I was a barrister. He apologised and guided me through security. At this point I tried to shrug it off as an innocent mistake."
I thought I’d explain what happened today because I’m absolutely exhausted and tbh I think a light needs to be shone on this. Especially given so many people like me seem to experience the same thing.— Alexandra Wilson (@EssexBarrister) September 23, 2020
"Second, after speaking to my client I opened the door to the courtroom to discuss the case with the prosecutor who was sitting inside. The bench weren’t in the room so it was the perfect time.
"At the door a member of the public told me not to go into the courtroom.
"I asked why and she said because it’s a court, only lawyers can go in.
"She said I was a journalist. The usher (the one person who recognised I was a barrister today) said to ignore her and to head on in.
"As I opened the door, a solicitor/ barrister said I needed to wait outside court and said the usher (who, btw, was next to me) would come outside and sign me in & the court would call me in for my case.
"I explained I’m a barrister. She looked embarrassed and said “oh. I see.”
Ms Wilson went on to detail how she was shouted at by a clerk to leave the courtroom who had also made the same mistake.
"...I walked towards the prosecutor, ready to have our conversation.
"Before I got there the clerk, VERY loudly, told me to leave the courtroom and said the usher would be out shortly. Before I could respond she then asked if I was represented."
"I, AGAIN, explained that I am a defence barrister trying to speak to the prosecutor. She looked at me, said “oh right, ok” and continued with what she was doing," Ms Wilson continued.
"Thankfully, the prosecutor and I were eventually able to have our conversation and the case proceeded smoothly.
"This really isn’t ok though. I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work."
She said she had lodged a complaint with the court.
She thanked well-wishers who sent her messages of support: "Thank you so much to everyone who has written a super supportive message. It makes me feel hopeful about change and glad that there are so many people who are fed up of this nonsense too."
Former London Mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita posted online: "So sorry to hear this. It’s not ok."
Kevin Sadler, acting CEO of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service posted online: “I'm very sorry about your experience at court yesterday – it is totally unacceptable behaviour and I’m investigating the role of my staff and contractors as a matter of urgency.
"This is not the behaviour anyone should expect and certainly does not reflect our values.”
Chambers 5 St Andrew’s Hill said in a statement: “It is hugely disappointing to hear of Alexandra’s experience at court yesterday. Such incidents need to be confined to history.
“Alexandra is an outstanding young barrister and we are extremely proud of her commitment in raising awareness of the challenges that BAME professionals face. As with all those practicing in the courts she should be able to do so without barriers and prejudice.
“We welcome the intervention of Kevin Sadler, CEO of the HM Courts Service, including his comments against this sort of discrimination as well as his intention to investigate what happened on this occasion.”