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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Lawyer faces ban for interview
By Cindi John
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Peter Herbert
Peter Herbert has taken on the legal profession over racism
A leading black barrister could have his licence suspended for breaching Bar Council rules on media interviews.

Peter Herbert, chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, is accused of expressing personal opinions about an ongoing case.

Mr Herbert is the only barrister ever to face such a charge.

He has launched a case of racial discrimination but the Bar Council denies the action is racially motivated.

In the United States the sight of lawyers giving interviews to the media before, during and after their clients appear in court is routine.

But in the UK the Bar Council has always maintained that lawyers should not make any personal statement about their client's case and can only read out statements from those they represent.

Mr Herbert, who is also a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, is charged with "conduct likely to diminish public confidence in the administration of justice".

Three years ago Mr Herbert faced a disciplinary hearing on the same charge but was acquitted.

If found guilty at the hearing on Tuesday, Mr Herbert could have his licence suspended for up to three months.

Radio interview

The case stems from comments Mr Herbert made to the media in August 2002 after defending Carole Baptiste, a social worker involved in the Victoria Climbie child abuse case.

Once you're in the legal system you became aware it's not racially correct
David Nieta, Society of Black Lawyers

In spite of being summonsed to give evidence, Baptiste repeatedly failed to appear before Lord Laming's public inquiry into the death of the 10-year-old.

She became the first person to be prosecuted for failure to attend a public inquiry and was fined 500.

After the verdict Mr Herbert spoke to reporters outside the court and next day gave an interview to Radio 4's Today programme during which he used phrases such as "I believe"' and "I think" .

The Bar Council asserts the case was still active at the time as Baptiste could have decided to launch an appeal and the use of the first person by Mr Herbert constituted expressing a personal opinion.

'Champion'

Other ethnic minority lawyers are backing Mr Herbert, claiming he is being targeted for his high-profile stance on race matters, including racism within the legal profession.

Barrister David Nieta said he had no doubt the Bar Council's action was racially motivated.

"He's been a champion for racial equality in the legal community and I can't imagine there's any other reason," Mr Nieta said.

Other black and Asian lawyers were not surprised by the decision to take action against Mr Herbert, Mr Nieta added.

"They have to toe the line, be careful more than a white lawyer. Once you're in the legal system you became aware it's not racially correct."

However, the Bar Council has refuted allegations of racism.

A spokesman said 20% of new entrants to the Bar in 2003 were from ethnic minorities.

'We also stand 100% by our record on promoting diversity through the first and most comprehensive equality code to form a part of the rule book of any profession," the spokesman added.




SEE ALSO:
Climbie social worker guilty
27 Aug 02 |  England
Spectator faces race complaint
27 Feb 03 |  Politics


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