Alexandra Wilson, barrister at 5SAH Chambers
HM Courts & Tribunals Service has launched an investigation after a black barrister complained about being mistaken for a defendant in court, three times in one day.
Alexandra Wilson, a criminal and family law barrister at 5SAH Chambers, gave her account of the incident in an interview with the BBC. She said that when she arrived at the magistrates court, a security officer asked for her name on the defendants list. Wilson told the officer that she was a barrister and he apologised.
Wilson was wearing court attire of a suit, and carrying a laptop, but she was not wearing her wig. When she was about to enter the courtroom a member of the public told her not to go in, as only lawyers could enter (saying that she thought Wilson was a journalist). But the courtroom usher told Wilson to ignore the person and head in.
As Wilson opened the courtroom door, a lawyer told her to wait outside and sign in with the usher for her case. When Wilson explained she was a barrister, the lawyer looked embarrassed and said "Oh I see."
Wilson then went over to speak to the prosecutor, but said that the clerk told her very loudly to get out of the courtroom because she had to wait for her case. Wilson said that, once again, she had to explain she was a barrister.
Wilson told RollOnFriday that she was "shouted at, ordered to leave the courtroom and treated dismissively multiple times in a manner which was humiliating and upsetting".
"Every other legal representative that day was white and no one else was challenged for their credentials or spoken to dismissively," said Wilson. "It was assumed that someone who looked like me was unlikely to be a barrister."
"The only thing that set me apart was the colour of my skin and when so many other black barristers have shared similar experiences, it underlines the problems BAME lawyers regrettably have to face," she said.
HMCTS Chief Executive Kevin Sadler said that he was very sorry about Wilson's experience at court, and that he would investigate the "totally unacceptable behaviour" as a "matter of urgency."
Wilson said that although she received an apology which is "the minimum" she would expect, "much more needs to be done to educate all court staff, barristers, solicitors and anyone else working in the justice system about conscious and unconscious bias."
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, told RollOnFriday: “The experiences barrister Alexandra Wilson describes are appalling. No one should be treated that way whether in their workplace, including when turning up at court to represent their client, or anywhere else." She confirmed that she was speaking directly with HMCTS, the judiciary and the CPS.
Law Society of England and Wales president Simon Davis said that the society was conducting research into the experiences of BAME members, "including the impact prejudice can have on their confidence, career satisfaction and progression, and how we can drive change."
Wilson was also in the news last week for criticising Amazon for allowing a third party to sell hats with the slogan "Black Lives Don't Matter". She said that it was "honestly embarrassing" that the caps were being sold on Amazon, and questioned whether there were any checks in place.
Amazon has now removed the hats, but Wilson said the delay was "really disappointing".
The 25-year-old has just published her new book, In Black and White: A Young Barrister's Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System.