A barrister who was sanctioned over a tweet claiming Muslims played a ‘central role’ in the ‘dying’ of free speech has won an appeal against the £500 fine he received.
Jon Holbrook complained that he had been ‘cancelled’ after he was sacked from his chambers and investigated over a string of controversial posts on Twitter.
At a previous tribunal, Mr Holbrook received the sanction for his tweet to a Muslim journalist, in which he claimed ‘free speech is dying and Islamists and other Muslims are playing a central role’.
Now following his appeal, the senior barrister’s £500 fine and warning have been overturned, with a panel ruling his tweet about Muslims was not serious enough to warrant sanction.
He has since launched criticism at what he called ‘wokesters’ and at his regulator, the Bar Standards Board [BSB], for investigating him, claiming they are a ‘playground bully’.
Barrister Jon Holbrook has had his sanction lifted after tweeting that Muslims were playing a ‘central role’ in the dying of free speech
The Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS) appeal hearing was told Mr Holbrook had faced disciplinary action over 18 tweets, 17 of which he was cleared over.
In one of these 17 cleared posts, Mr Holbrook called Ruby Williams a ‘stroppy teenager of colour’ after she was awarded an £8,500 settlement by her Church of England school amid claims it discriminated her due to her afro hairstyle.
However, he was sanctioned over his response in October 2020 to a tweet calling for French magazine Charlie Hebdo to be shut down, the day after French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by an extremist in Paris.
Mr Holbrook said: ‘Free speech is dying and Islamists and other Muslims are playing a central role. Who will lead the struggle to reinstate free speech as the foundation of all other freedoms?’
At the previous tribunal in August last year, an independent panel [IDP] ruled the tweet would ‘not only cause offence but cause hostility towards Muslims as a group’.
It also ruled an ‘ordinary reasonable reader’ would ‘understand the tweet to mean that the Muslim community was to blame for curtailing free speech’.
At his latest appeal hearing, Mr Holbrook claimed he was ‘sanctioned for his philosophical beliefs’ and that the panel ‘set the bar too low’ for a sanction.
The tweet which led to Mr Holbrook’s original sanction, which has now been overturned on appeal
He also claimed, in law, Muslims have ‘no right to be protected from political criticism’ and that his tweet was ‘purely political’.
He won his appeal, with the panel ruling that the tweet was not serious enough to breach the threshold.
The tribunal report, published today, said: ‘Mr Holbrook states that his centre-right, pro-assimilation and pro-free speech views which “came together to inform” the tweet in question are expressions of a “philosophical belief”.
‘The IDP’s finding that the tweet would cause offence fell short of establishing the type of conduct necessary for a breach when the right to freedom of expression was engaged.
‘The panel was also satisfied that the IDP’s finding ‘could promote hostility’, expressed conditionally, fell short of the seriousness of offensive or discreditable conduct indicated by the case law…
‘The panel find that the IDP erred in law by applying too low a threshold in reaching its conclusion that the tweet breached [the rules].
‘The IDP did not conclude that the relevant tweet was seriously offensive or seriously discreditable within the terms of [the rules].
‘And, given the protection afforded to freedom of speech, the panel does not consider that it was reasonably open to the IDP to conclude that [the rules] were breached…’
In a subsequent tweet, Mr Holbrook said he was ‘delighted’ to have won his appeal
Mr Holbrook’s warning was set aside and the £500 fine, as well as a £100 administration fee, must be repaid to him.
Speaking after his victory, Mr Holbrook said he was delighted and claimed regulators should be ‘on guard’ for what he called ‘woke practitioners of cancel culture who offer up their thin skins’.
He said: ‘Without free speech there is no democracy. But in the professions, it is frequently curtailed by regulators and wokesters who seek to censor through cancellation.
‘Because these right thinking people claim to know better, they use their status to prevent the public from hearing a broad spectrum of political views – particularly on culture war issues that pit the left against the majority of ordinary people.
‘As these regulators well know, for every person sanctioned or cancelled, there are countless others who are chilled into not speaking their mind. This process erodes democracy.’
He also accused the BSB of deliberately trying to sanction him for ‘crimes against a woke ideology’.
He said: ‘The BSB no doubt hoped I would quietly accept the sanction, which the public was not supposed to know about, and thereafter conform to the regulator’s boundaries on political speech, as determined at Islington dinner parties.
‘But I didn’t. I went public and forced the BSB to hold my appeal hearing in public.’
Public law barrister Mr Holbrook became a lawyer in 1989. He claimed his career ‘ended in 2021’ when he was ‘cancelled by the woke’, having been sacked from Cornerstone Barristers over his tweets.
Source: Daily Mail