Veteran barrister’s sexist language was misconduct, High Court rules

A male barrister who ranted about women in the profession during a post-hearing chat with a female barrister has lost his appeal against a finding of professional misconduct.

Mr Justice Choudhury said there was nothing wrong with the finding and subsequent £500 fine handed out to Feliks Kwiatkowski by the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service last November.

The barrister of 45 years’ call had been chatting with the opposing barrister following a hearing at Worthing County Court in 2019 when he described a female legal executive involved in the case as a ‘hysterical woman’. Asked to explain what he meant, he said it was ‘just a fact’ and went on to claim that when more women joined the profession, the ‘ground shifted’ and the number of incidents of ‘overegging the pudding and just going overboard in a routine situation multiplied’.

Kwiatkowski made his appeal to the High Court this week, arguing that he could not have diminished trust and confidence among the public because no members of the public were present. His lawyers also questioned whether the tribunal was entitled to refer to his language as ‘sexist and discriminatory’ and suggested that such exchanges in the court waiting room were a ‘natural feature of a vigorous adversarial contest’.

His representative Marc Beaumont submitted that, faced with such opinions from another member of the bar, ‘most female barristers would stand their ground and if they disagreed would try to persuade him to a different view or simply told him to pipe down’.

But the judge rejected all 15 grounds of appeal and supported the tribunal’s decision. He stated there was no requirement for the public to be present for a finding that conduct was likely to diminish the profession in the eyes of the public.

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He said that Kwiatkowski had used language that ‘perpetuates well-known gender stereotypes’ and that the tribunal was entitled to describe it as sexist and discriminatory. He rejected the submission that the words used were trivial or inconsequential and said they were ‘gratuitous’ and ‘undoubtedly an offensive epithet’ when used in the way they were.

The judge said regulators should not seek to ‘curtail or neuter’ discussions among professionals but should step in when the language is discriminatory.

He added: ‘This is an unambiguous slur on women’s abilities within the legal profession. This is about as close as one can get to stating that women are inferior without stating it in those terms.’

The court rejected an application to appeal on another ground relating to the Equality Act. Kwiatkowski was ordered to pay the BSB’s £2,550 costs of the appeal in full.


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