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World News

Black barrister ‘mistaken for defendant three times’

https://www.bbc.com/

A black barrister has said court staff mistook her for a defendant three times in one day.

In a series of tweets, Alexandra Wilson, 25, from Essex, said a security officer, a solicitor and a court clerk had not recognised she was in the legal profession.

She said the experience had left her “absolutely exhausted”.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) apologise for the “totally unacceptable behaviour”.

Criminal and family barrister Ms Wilson said a security officer asked for her name when she arrived at court on Wednesday.

He then searched for it on a list of defendants.

“I explained I was a barrister. He apologised and guided me through security,” Ms Wilson said.

After meeting with her client, she tried to enter the courtroom to discuss the case with the prosecutor.

But she said another lawyer told her she “needed to wait outside” and the court would call her in for her case.

“I explained I’m a barrister. She looked embarrassed and said ‘oh. I see’,” Ms Wilson said.

On entering the room, Ms Wilson said she was challenged by the clerk who told her “very loudly” to leave and asked if she had a solicitor.

Ms Wilson wrote: “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.”

In addition, she said, a member of the public thought she was a journalist and told her “only lawyers can go in” the courtroom.

Ms Wilson, who has since lodged a formal complaint, said: “This really isn’t ok… I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my
existence at work.”

Responding to her tweets, HMCTS acting chief executive, Kevin Sadler, said: “I’m very sorry about your experience at court yesterday – it is totally unacceptable behaviour.”

He said he would be investigating the role of his staff and contractors “as a matter of urgency”.

“This is not the behaviour anyone should expect and certainly does not reflect our values,” he added.

Ms Wilson said she was “grateful” for the apology and hoped it “leads to some real change”.

“I felt humiliated and by the end I was almost in tears to be honest,” she said.

“There is no doubt that more training is needed for court staff and legal professionals.”

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