Personal space is important.
A barrister has been suspended for six months and banned from taking on work experience students after he was found to have made a series of lewd comments to a woman on a mini-pupillage.
According to the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service (BTAS), over the course of three days at Lincoln House Chambers in Manchester in 2015, Rob Kearney told 'Person A' that “eating pineapple makes semen taste better” and that he kept his nails short “because you can’t finger women with long nails”.
According to the BTAS, Kearney also:
- asked her if she had ever had sex in her parents’ house, and for the details;
- told her about sex with his wife;
- said she should wear skirts and heels instead of trousers and asked her bra size; and
- when the two were alone in a lift, leaned in to smell her neck and asked what perfume she was wearing.
Kearney was found to have failed to act with integrity and diminished the trust and confidence the public placed in him and the profession. As well as being suspended, he was banned him from taking on pupils, mini-pupils or anyone on work experience.
It is the second time Kearney has been upbraided for inappropriate sexual behaviour with junior members of the profession.
At a networking event in 2017 he boasted to a male pupil that he had “buttfucked another chambers dry”.
In an unsuccessful attempt to cover his arse, Kearney checked the pupil’s age before asking him whether he had “ever taken a woman from behind”. Describing Kearney’s line of questioning as "uncomfortable", the tribunal reprimanded the barrister and fined him £1,000.
A BSB spokesperson said, “There should be no place at the Bar for sexual harassment", but barristers and junior lawyers expressed alarm that Kearney had received only a suspension for his conduct towards Person A.
Isobel McCarrol, a barrister at 4 Breams Buildings, said it was "utterly disgraceful".
"How can the BSB justify such a low penalty. This is predatory behaviour against juniors who are in an extremely vulnerable position", she asked.
"I am a female bar student", said Lincoln's Inn pupil 'Bec de Corbin'. "We are taught that as barristers, small misdemeanours like parking violations are OK, but more serious crimes are not. Is sexual harassment the equivalent of a parking violation?"
Reacting to the criticism of its perceived leniency, the Bar Standards Bar said in a statement, "we are aware of current concern from the public and the profession about the level of sanctions imposed in cases of sexual misconduct". It said its Sanctions Guidance "is currently under review" and that it was planning to consult with the public in April on proposals to "amend the recommended ranges of sanctions for specific types of breaches".
Kearney, who has changed his Twitter description of himself from, "Barrister, drinker and part-time international watch model", to the safer-sounding, "Barrister, father and foodie", told RollOnFriday that he was appealing all aspects of the tribunal's ruling.
Lincoln House Chambers confirmed that Kearney resigned in March 2020. "We consider any allegation of sexual harassment to be very serious", said Director of Clerking David Wright. "Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect in their work or training".