A barrister has become embroiled in a racism row after he called a schoolgirl who won a discrimination settlement a ‘stroppy teenager of colour’.
Jon Holbrook commented on the case of Ruby Williams, now 18, who was awarded £8,500 following an Equality Act case against her school in east London.
She was 14 when she was told by Urswick School in Hackney that her Afro hairstyle was against their uniform policy and sent home from her classes.
Mr Holbrook, who was called to the Bar 30 years ago, retweeted a post by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which referred to the case on January 17.
He said: ‘The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour.’
His tweet, shared to 7,400 followers, has since been criticised by a swathe of lawyers on social media.
Jon Holbrook commented on the case of Ruby Williams (seen with her parents Kate and Lenny), now 18, who was awarded £8,500 following an Equality Act case against her school in east London
Mr Holbrook, who was called to the Bar 30 years ago, retweeted a post by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which referred to the case on January 17. He said: ‘The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour’
Mr Holbrook’s chambers, Cornerstone Barristers in Gray’s Inn Square, said they ‘repudiate’ the tweet and ‘all that it insinuates,’ adding: ‘The contents of this tweet are contrary to the views of Cornerstone Barristers.’
Philip Coppel QC and Tom Cosgrove QC, joint Cornerstone heads, said they had asked Mr Holbrook to delete the tweet twice, but he ‘is refusing to do so.’
They added: ‘The Board of Cornerstone Barristers is dealing with the matter. To be clear: this matter is being taken very seriously.
‘The contents of this tweet are contrary to the views of Cornerstone Barristers.
Mr Holbrook (pictured) has been criticised by a swathe of lawyers following his comment
‘We unequivocally condemn discrimination in all of its forms and are proud of our record as a diverse chambers which promotes social mobility at the Bar.’
Mr Holbrook’s comment was also criticised by others in the legal profession.
Labour MP David Lammy, who is trained as a barrister, said: ‘What a pathetic response from a barrister.
‘No one should be discriminated against because of their race, or because their hair is different. You shame the Bar and undermine your profession.’
Barrister Becky Agates added: ‘I’ve sat here staring at the screen… unable to write.
‘You’re a member of my profession, a profession I love and respect, yet you feel safe and comfortable tweeting something like this.
‘What is wrong with you, apart from the obvious? Do the right thing, take it down.’
David Turner QC said: ‘This is the most shameful tweet that I have ever seen from a barrister.
Labour MP David Lammy, who is trained as a barrister, said: ‘What a pathetic response from a barrister. No one should be discriminated against because of their race, or because their hair is different. You shame the Bar and undermine your profession’
‘I am so sorry [Ruby’s mother] Kate Williams – you and Ruby do not deserve this.’
Ms Williams, 44, said she had tried to contact Mr Holbrook following his comment.
She told the lawyer: ‘I am her mum and sent you a message a while ago. You didn’t answer. Everyone else has said it all already but I wanted to say thanks.
‘By trying to say she was in the wrong… you’ve actually highlighted this awful form of discrimination again. The world is changing.’
The mother added: ‘It’s a pleasant surprise that this has blown up, because the issue is still there. We’re very aware of how many other children are still facing this at UK schools.
‘It allows to challenge and put pressure on UK schools as to when they will sort this out.’
Following the backlash, Mr Holbrook shared an article in which he said he explained how ‘instead of challenging racism, equality law promotes racial privilege.’
Mr Holbrook’s chambers, Cornerstone Barristers in Gray’s Inn Square, said they ‘repudiate’ the tweet and ‘all that it insinuates,’ adding: ‘The contents of this tweet are contrary to the views of Cornerstone Barristers’. Pictured: Ms Williams
Following the backlash, Mr Holbrook shared an article in which he said he explained how ‘instead of challenging racism, equality law promotes racial privilege’
The article, penned for The Conservative Woman, said: ‘Legal arguments over Afro hair, dreadlocks and cornrows have been used to undermine school uniform policies and, more seriously, the objective behind them, that of overcoming racial difference and division.’
He added: ‘When the child is saying “I have a different race and culture to which the school must adapt” he is requiring the school to adapt to him. He is seeking a dispensation and privilege.
‘But he ought to be adapting to the school, which is imposing a socially desirable norm.
‘It is time for a serious debate about the harm that equality law is causing to society.’
Pictured: Ruby Williams, who was awarded £8,500 following an Equality Act case against her school
The row began after Mr Holbrook shared a video about the case of Ms Williams, who was repeatedly sent home from school because teachers said her Afro hair blocked other pupils from seeing the whiteboard.
The teenager, then 14, was told her hairstyle was against uniform policy, with the Church of England school also telling her it was attempting to meet health and safety standards.
Ms Williams, received a £8,500 payout last February after her family took legal action with the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
They claimed that she had been discriminated against on the basis of race.
She said that she had been ‘humiliated’ by the school’s actions and her parents, Kate and Lenny, said the three-year battle ‘destroyed’ their daughter’s confidence.
She was told her hair breached policy, which stated that ‘afro style hair must be of reasonable size and length’. This policy has since been removed from the website.
Mr Holbrook told the Times: ‘Liberal democracies are premised on free speech and we curtail it at our peril. I have for many years criticised laws that enable individual rights to trump collective interests. Many provisions of the Equality Act do this, which is why I criticise them in my political capacity.’
He added that his ‘political views are never expressed as a member of Cornerstone Barristers, because they have nothing to do with my work as a member.
‘My day job is concerned with how the law is, my political interest is concerned with how it should be. Many of my critics seem unable to grasp this distinction. Others are simply motivated by a loathing for conservative and populist opinions.’
Mr Holbrook claimed his tweet drew attention to a ‘political problem arising under the Equality Act’, adding it was ‘informed by a stream of cases dating back to 1982 in which race relations laws have been used by people of colour to undermine school uniform policies.’
He said these cases tend to focus on hair and hijabs.
He told MailOnline: ‘Because the law commands a particular outcome (diversity) those who challenge it are seen as ripe for censure. This is wrong because in a democracy everyone should be afforded the same practical reality of being able to express their views.
‘When they are not, opinion is suppressed and public policy is skewed. This has been happening for decades on issues relating to race.
‘There has never been a public debate about laws and public policies that have required a slavish acceptance of the “salad bowl” approach to culture, in preference to the “melting pot”.
‘There is a woke tyranny that is so unsure of its arguments that it invariably responds to its critics by seeking to silence and cancel them.’