Cornerstone Barristers expels public law specialist in row over tweeting

Cornerstone Barristers has expelled Jon Holbrook in a row over a tweet on 17 January from his personal account in which he claimed that “the Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour", although the public law specialist says he had already resigned.

The 17 January tweet was in response to an Equality and Human Right Commission tweet and video about the case of Ruby Williams, who was sent home from school because her hair breached the uniform policy. She reached an out-of-court settlement with the school in question. The watchdog had said: “The Equality Act 2010 is clear; no one should face discrimination because of their race.”

Mr Holbrook’s tweet was criticised by a number of barristers as well as shadow Lord Chancellor David Lammy MP.  

Cornerstone Barristers subsequently issued a statement saying it repudiated the contents of Mr Holbrook’s 17 January tweet “and all that it insinuates”.

However, Mr Holbrook declined to take down the tweet as requested by the set.

At an Extraordinary Chambers Meeting yesterday (31 January), members of Cornerstone Barristers voted to expel Mr Holbrook from chambers. The expulsion took effect at 00:01hrs GMT today (1 February), when he will cease to be a member.

The set said: “The expulsion followed an investigation into tweeting from Mr Holbrook's personal Twitter account. Members were clear that statements made on social media by Mr Holbrook were irreconcilable with membership of Cornerstone Barristers.

“Cornerstone Barristers reiterates its repudiation of the contents of Mr Holbrook's particularly offensive tweet on 17 January at 09:34hrs and all that it insinuated. Mr Holbrook's views have never reflected the views of these Chambers.

“We unequivocally condemn discrimination in all its forms.”

Mr Holbrook tweeted yesterday that “the woke seek to deploy, not the jackboot of totalitarianism, but the cancel culture of intolerance. In the name of democracy they must not succeed.”

He then linked to an article in The Critic in which he claims he was expelled “for challenging the mainstream discourse on race”. He said he had resigned four days before his expulsion.

Mr Holbrook, who said Twitter had investigated the 17 January tweet and taken no action, wrote: “During my fifteen years as a barrister at Cornerstone Barristers and thirty years at the bar, I had an unblemished professional record and was top ranked by legal directories for my work – particularly in public law. And yet my one sentence tweet on a platform designed to be polemical has ended this particular career.

“I tweet regularly: identifying myself as a barrister, but never as a member of Cornerstone. In fact, I had two accounts, the other identified me as a member of Cornerstone and was used for professional purposes. And yet, a thirteen-word tweet on my political account has caused me to be expelled from my professional workplace.”

In the article Mr Holbrook revealed that he had been sacked by Brighton & Hove City Council immediately after winning a case concerning an application for interim relief in the form of suitable accommodation submitted on behalf of a street homeless former asylum seeker.

The local authority won the case both on the merits and because of the claimant’s breach of the duty of candour.

A spokesperson for Brighton and Hove said: “The council immediately withdrew instructions from Jon Holbrook when we became aware of his social media posts.

“We made clear to his chambers our concerns and that we would not be using him again.”

The Social Housing Law Association Committee has meanwhile held an urgent meeting and has written to Mr Holbrook demanding he resign his membership of the organisation in line with its Articles of Association.

The committee said it could not ignore his 17 January tweet “nor his subsequent behaviour both on social media and in comments to the press in which he sought to justify the views expressed in that tweet”.

It added: “We consider Jon Holbrook’s tweet and his subsequent behaviour to be abhorrent. SHLA unreservedly condemns the views expressed by Jon Holbrook.”

The SHLA Committee said it has power to revoke Mr Holbrook’s membership if he refuses to resign and would take further steps under its Articles if he failed to comply with the demand.

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