Barrister accused of sexual harassment at chambers party successfully appeals Bar Disciplinary Tribunal finding
Barrister and former UKIP candidate, Stephen Howd, has successfully appealed a Bar Disciplinary Tribunal ruling primarily on the grounds of a medical condition he was suffering at the time of his conduct. Mrs Justice Lang sitting in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court ruled that a medical condition (that will remain confidential) was the impetus behind Mr Howd’s actions and overturned the Tribunal's finding and the £1,800 fine imposed.
Mr Howd was brought before the Bar Disciplinary Tribunal in 2016 following a summer party held at Zenith Cambers, where he was a former tenant. Three women raised complaints against Mr Howd including that they were pestered, that he had tried to kiss two of them and that he had said to another they should dance ‘crotch to crotch’. The Tribunal found that Mr Howd had failed to act with integrity (the third core duty p.22), that he had behaved in a way that was likely to undermine the confidence and trust the public placed in the legal profession (the fifth core duty p.22) and that his actions amounted to professional misconduct.
Mr Howd appealed this decision to the High Court (Bar Standards Board -v- Howd  EWHC 210 (Admin)) on the grounds that the Tribunal misinterpreted and failed to give due regard to medical evidence presented, that the evidence of one of the witnesses was unreliable, that the Tribunal had not correctly applied core duties three and five and that even if the allegations were proved, they would not amount to professional misconduct. Mrs Justice Lang heard that the medical condition he was suffering with at the time was exacerbated by excess alcohol and lead to his ‘loss of judgment’. Lang J accepted that the inappropriate and offensive behaviour was ‘a consequence of his medical condition,’ that his actions at the party did not reflect his integrity as a barrister and that they ‘lacked any reprehensible or morally culpable quality’. She commented that his behaviour was caused by ‘factors beyond his control’. Lang J went on to note that, although she considered Howd’s actions would undermine the trust and confidence the public place in the profession, the public would understand that his behaviour was a result of his medical circumstances and that this would not affect his fitness to practice.
Aallowing the appeal, Lang J also found that the threshold for serious professional misconduct was not crossed, contradicting the Tribunal who found that his intent or drunken state did not make his actions excusable.
Following the ruling, a spokeswoman for the Bar Standards Board noted that ‘whilst disappointed, [they] have no further comment’. Stephen Howd currently works for his own company Howd Law.
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