In December 2014, UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) Director, Jonathan Goldberg QC submitted a complaint to the Bar Standards Board in respect of barrister, Ian Millard, an active Twitter user. UKLFI had discovered that Millard had made anti-Semitic comments on his Twitter feed whilst at the same time referring to his professional status as a qualified barrister. Our complaint alleged that Mr Millard had breached Core Duty 5 of the Bar Standard Board Code of Conduct, which requires that members of the bar “must not behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in [them] or in the profession”.
Mr Millard had attempted to portray his activity on Twitter as an issue of free speech protected by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and claimed that as a non-practising barrister, he was no longer bound by the profession’s code of conduct. However, UKLFI claimed in response that “Mr Millard is as free as the law allows, to spout his venomous racism in his personal capacity. What he cannot do we submit is to remain a member of the Bar whilst acting in a way that brings the profession into disrepute and violates its oft-proclaimed commitments to diversity and equality.”
Following a careful study of the material, the Professional Conduct Committee of the Bar Standards Board decided in September 2015 that our complaint should form the subject of seven charges against Mr Millard before a five-person Disciplinary Tribunal of The Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service. Included in the seven offending tweets were one in which he branded politician Michael Gove ‘pro-Zionist’ and ‘pro-Jew’, another in which he called French politician Nicolas Sarkozy a ‘little Jew’ and another in which he called government minister Grant Shapps ‘the Jew Shapps’. In another tweet, he posted a picture of a swastika with a comment in German about Jews.
The hearing took place on 27th October 2016 and the Tribunal found all seven charges to be proved and disbarred Mr Millard with immediate effect.
Although Mr Millard accepted at the hearing that Core Duty 5 applied to him as an unregistered barrister, he submitted the tweets were made in his private life. In any event, he did not accept the tweets were offensive but that his tweets should be viewed as political commentary in the same way that a newspaper report would be.
The Tribunal found that tweets made from Mr Millard’s open Twitter account were not tweets in his private life under Article 8 of the ECHR. Moving on to consider Article 10 of the ECHR, the Tribunal found that, although as a matter of law people can say what they wish (unless of course there is a criminal element to the behaviour), being a member of the Bar is to be a member of an honourable profession. Members of the public would expect barristers to behave to a high standard and the Bar is held up highly in the eyes of the public.
The Tribunal went on to say that if a person known to be a barrister speaks in a way which is highly disparaging of groups of people it would be highly probable that this would diminish not only the trust and confidence the public placed in him but also in the profession. The Tribunal concluded that the reputation of the profession was most important and that it needed to be protected from the behaviour of Mr Millard, which the Tribunal felt would be continued. In these circumstances, the Tribunal decided that the appropriate penalty was disbarment and that Mr Millard should be expelled from the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn.
The Tribunal’s published finding can be viewed here [http://www.tbtas.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/hearings/3521/Outcome-Posting-Millard.pdf]
Mr Millard is also a member of the New York Bar. Following his disbarment in the UK, UK Lawyers for Israel has prepared and submitted a complaint against him in the US.
The case has been widely reported. See:
Caroline Kendal is Director of Operations for UK Lawyers for Israel