Holbrook logs in to Twitter

A barrister has been expelled from chambers for tweeting that a black teenager was "stroppy" when she challenged her school for banning her afro.

Barrister John Holbrook had tweeted on 17 January that the Equality Act "undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour." His tweet was in response to a video by the Equality and Human Rights Commission describing how it had assisted teenager Ruby Williams and her parents, when Williams was sent home repeatedly by her school for having an afro hair style. Holbrook was pilloried on social media for his comment.

Cornerstone Barristers has now expelled Holbrook after an internal investigation. A spokeswoman said the set repudiated Holbrook's "particularly offensive tweet". 

"Members were clear that statements made on social media by Mr Holbrook were irreconcilable with membership of Cornerstone Barristers," said the spokeswoman. "We unequivocally condemn discrimination in all its forms." 

Holbrook claimed he had resigned four days before he was booted out. He defended his tweet in an article in The Critic, stating that his "unblemished professional record" of thirty years had been ended by a "one sentence tweet on a platform designed to be polemical." 

"I did not view this as a case of racism by the school," he argued. "I saw it as challenge to school discipline by a child and her parents who were seeking a dispensation on racial grounds." He said that he did not break Twitter rules, and an investigation by Twitter did not remove his tweet. 

Holbrook suggested the "woke mob" on Twitter attempted to "cancel" him, including the Shadow Justice Secretary, David Lammy MP who posted "you shame the Bar."

"The only reason that Chambers proceeded to expel me, despite my resignation, was because the salivating attack dogs wanted some red meat to chew," said Holbrook. "Chambers was compliant enough to jump to their barking but it made no difference to me – save to enhance my reputation as a free speech advocate."

Holbrook said that he'd intended to stop practising as a barrister, but the "attempted cancellation" prompted "the manner and timing" of his resignation. He said he would now devote "more time to polemicise against the woke whose contempt for reasoned debate becomes clearer with each attempted cancellation".

Williams told the Guardian that the case was a big part of her life for a long time, and she shouldn't just be "summed up" as a "stroppy teenager of colour." She said she was grateful that the matter had "been taken so seriously".

The teenager said she was not pleased that Holbrook had been expelled. However, she thought he had "very dangerous" views, and said she personally wouldn't want legal representation from "a barrister who thinks that the Equality Act has a harmful impact on free speech."

Tip Off ROF


Anonymous 05 February 21 09:31

I'm conflicted here.  On the one hand, "stroppy teenager of colour" is egregiously insulting and it's hard to escape the inference that it's the tip of a racist (or at least offensively ignorant) iceberg.

On the other hand, he's kinda right about his right to hold and express the view that the Equality Act has some stifling tendencies or possibly-unintended consequences.  (Not saying he's right to hold that opinion, just that he's right that he should be free to do so.) 

There's nothing innately offensive about criticising the effects of legislation.  But when that criticism strays into sensitive areas, there is a moral duty to step especially carefully to avoid collateral offence.

Is he someone with a valid-if-challenging viewpoint who expressed himself incredibly stupidly and now won't own that mistake, or is he, in fact, a bigot who's using freedom of speech on more legitimate issues as a cloak for his bigotry?

Either way, he comes across as a tool - it's just the degree of tool-hood that seems in doubt.

Anon 05 February 21 09:50

After looking at his Twitter, I'm amazed this guy is even a barrister. The type of nonsense he posts is something you would not associate with someone who has a brain! 

Rocinante 05 February 21 10:06

I'm rather concerned that a member of a learned profession, in which eloquence is prized, seems to only be capable of communicating in alt-right buzzwords.

Anon 05 February 21 10:18

He should have just said “stroppy teenager”. Even though “person of colour” is not in itself offensive (that’s phrase is commonly used, although more so in USA than UK, and is seen as being descriptive and no problem). But by linking the two descriptions, it comes across as clumsy at best. 

Anon 05 February 21 11:44

Anonymous 05 February 21 09:31 - extremely well reasoned comments. 

However, a brief review of Mr Holbrook's Twitter, in particular his retweeting and support of Katie Hopkins, well, that tells you all you need to know. 

Buy 05 February 21 13:44

The degree to which businesses will surrender to the demands of woke zealots is scary.

I’m not saying his tweet was above reproach - simply that it did not deserve to result in him becoming a non-person in the profession. 

NaylandS 05 February 21 14:42

It's a very curious tweet, because it implies that he's sensitive enough to these matters to be aware of the status of '...of colour' as the expression du jour, but simultaneously insensitive enough not to realise that the sentence as worded was bound to cause trouble. As someone above noted, 'stroppy teenager' would have been fine, and it's astonishing he didn't just say that.

Anonymous 06 February 21 08:16

Why did he add 'of colour'? There was no other reason to comment on her skin colour other than to be racist.

Anonymous 06 February 21 13:35

not to realise that the sentence as worded was bound to cause trouble.

Are we really going to pretend that he didn't know what he was saying?

Anonymous 06 February 21 13:49

@ Buy 05 February 21 13:44

There's no suggestion that his former chambers are responding to external pressure - and to suggest that supporting equality under the law is a position of zealotry is revealing of your own views.  

If you believe that supporting equal access to the law for all races is a position of "woke zealotry" then you are against the fundamental principles of UK law and there is no place for you in the profession..  

As for this man, no-one has made him a non-person.  He is at perfect liberty to join any set that will have him or to strike out on his own.

If you're a lawyer, you're clearly not a very good one because looking at facts appears to be beyond you.

Anonymous 06 February 21 13:51

Paul 05 February 21 13:36

His Legal 500 page has been removed.

It all feels a bit Stalinist to me if I'm honest.

I thought you'd left the profession John.  But given your tweet didn't let the facts get in the way of your hysteria, why should you change now.

Anonymous 07 February 21 20:09

White racists use the word woke against other white people in the same way that they used to use the word lover after "n-----".

Let's stop beating around the bush and call it out for what it is.  There's no point in trying to be clever about it or win arguments with these people.  They'll either change or they won't but in the meantime can we please stop pandering to them.

Anonymous 11 February 21 13:17

I think the underlying point that a lot continue to miss about the original situation, is that it has an underlying element of ingrained racist thinking (which regrettably probably informed the response on Twitter, which is in issue here).  School policies, particularly about hair are intended to capture the "wacky" or extreme haircuts and styles that kids might go for in order to stand out, or rebel, but can end up being used to single out, or punish black kids.  In almost all cases, unless you are black, a hairstyle that would breach uniform policy involves deliberate cutting or styling in order to achieve that look.  However, with black kids, particularly girls (or anyone who wants long hair), these policies are often used to force them to style their hair unnaturally, in order to "fit in", ie to make their hair look more white, so that it's straight, or flat.  If you're a black kid (or aboriginal, pacific islander etc), you can breach these policies just for having your natural hair.  Afro's are still seen (particularly in the US, but also here) as a political statement, or as rebelling, or just not doing enough to fit in, ie to dress, style and act as if you're white.  If I grow my hair long, I just look like a prat who's having a mid-life crisis, there's nothing political about it, and I also wouldn't be punished (other than with rightful social stigma) for my natural hair whether at work, or (if I was still a teenager, which alas is long past) at school.  The problematic thing here was failing to see that she was not just being a stroppy teenager  trying to defy a uniform policy, but that she was someone who was, quite rightly, pushing back against a prevailing view of how people, and particularly kids should look, which at it's heart has (being charitable) slightly racist undertones.  The way the tweet was expressed only underlined why this chap couldn't understand what was wrong, or why she'd actually been successful in her opposition to the policy.

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