A magistrate who called a black barrister “huffy” for complaining that she had been mistaken for a defendant three times in a day has been formally rebuked by top judges.
Jacqueline Mitchell made the remark on Twitter last September after barrister Alexandra Wilson spoke out about her treatment at the hands of court staff.
Ms Wilson said she was left “humiliated” and close to tears when a security guard, a fellow lawyer and a court clerk all assumed she was the defendant, ordering her to leave court and waiting to be invited in.
Responding to reports of the incident, Miss Mitchell, who sits as a magistrate in Cambridgeshire, tweeted: “I usually don’t get recognised for the role I serve when I go to court and I’m one of the magistrates. But never have I got huffy with a ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ response.”
The message sparked anger and accusations of racism on social media, with complaints being lodged against the magistrate with the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office.
It has confirmed that Miss Mitchell has been handed a formal warning by senior judges, for “an ill-judged remark on social media, which risked undermining her credibility and standing as a judicial office-holder”.
“In making their decision, they took into consideration that Miss Mitchell had apologised for her actions and taken remedial steps,” the office statement said. Ms Wilson received an official apology from HM Courts and Tribunal Service for the original incident, when she attended a magistrates court to represent a client.
She said the security guard at the front door took her name and began searching for it on a list of defendants, but apologised for the mistake when she said she was a barrister. Once inside, she met her client and headed to the courtroom to discuss the case with the prosecutor. “Another barrister or solicitor sitting at the back of the court told me to go outside and wait and to sign in with the usher for my case,” she said.
“At this point I was already pretty annoyed, but I went over to the prosecutor and then the clerk told me very loudly to get out of the courtroom because I had to wait for my case to come on. “I was nearly in tears. I said again, ‘I am a defence barrister’, and she nodded her head and turned back to her computer.”
The lawyer, from Essex, who last year wrote a book on her experiences in the legal system called In Black and White: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System, added: “I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work.”