A barrister is calling for there to be anti-racism training within the legal profession as she has found that she has been mistaken for the defendant three times within the space of one day and by other court staff too. She believes this is because of the colour of her skin and is outraged that such discrimination still exists.
Alexandra Wilson, 25, is the author of ‘In Black And White’, a book which explores and examines racism within the UK court system. She has recently posted a series of tweets in which she stresses that there is discrimination still happening within the court, as she is a black barrister and has experienced it firsthand.
The barrister claims that in just one day she was mistaken for a defendant three times. She said the first time was by a security guard who said he couldn’t see her name on the defendant’s list, once inside the courtroom and then by a legal professional who told her to wait outside and wait for the usher to discuss her case.
She then said that she was shouted at by a clerk who told her she had to leave the courtroom and wait for her case to begin. She was then mistaken to be a journalist by a member of the public and was told she shouldn’t go into the courtroom.
Alexandra told the Metro that people had made the wrong assumptions in recent months over the way racism is taking place. She said that people just assume it comes in the form of extreme brutality when actually, she finds that the reality of it is that it’s a “much bigger problem”.
She said that people often make “underlying assumptions” about black people and it’s not being addressed.
She explained: “The issue is not so much being wrongly thought to be a defendant, journalist or member of the public.
“It’s the underlying assumptions that underpin it. That ‘all mixed-race people look the same’ or ‘black people must be coming to court because they’re in trouble with the law’.”
She added: “It’s easy to think, ‘I’m not racist because I don’t use racial slurs’ or ‘I would never intentionally say anything hateful to someone about their race’.
“But racism doesn’t stop there. Racism is making assumptions about people because of the way they look.”
Alexandra’s path into the legal profession began when her friend, Ayo, was murdered at the age of 17-years-old.
The legal profession is often heavily criticised for being a majority of white, middle-class, privately educated men, so throughout her time in the profession, she has certainly stood out.
Alexandra believes that there needs to be anti-racism training put in place for those in the legal profession, as she feels there is a current racial bias taking place.
She said: “The training that does take place needs to be actively anti-racist, as opposed to promoting equality and diversity which should be a bare minimum.”
After posting a series of tweets on the issue, Alexandra found that she had triggered a response from fellow black and ethnic minority legal professionals. In addition to this, she received an apology from the acting chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunal Services, Kevin Sadler, who has since stated he will be investigating the formal complaint she has made.
Natasha Shotunde, barrister and co-founder of the Black Barristers Network, stated that micro-aggression, patronising and belittling comments are very commonplace for black barristers.
She stated: “In the media, we are only portrayed as criminals, or if we’re lucky, singers or athletes. Black intellect isn’t something that is recognised or acknowledged, and that feeds into our professions.”
The barrister went on to describe her own experiences of racial discrimination at an advocacy weekend with a retired judge, she added: “He turned to me and asked me whether I was going to go back to my country to practice when really, I was born and raised in Tottenham.”
It isn’t just certain levels of the legal profession that are lacking in diversity. From the appointment of QCs to the progression of law students who are an ethnic minority, the issue has been raised.
Abimbola Johnson, a defence barrister, said that Alexandra’s experience within the industry highlighted a much wider issue of systematic racism.
She said: “The prejudices we see reflected in the system are reflective of the prejudice we see in our day-to-day lives.
“What Wilson experienced is in many ways a symptom of the over-representation of black people in the criminal justice system which has been widely reported in the 1981 Scarman report and the 2017 David Lammy Review.
“We need to start having honest conversations, looking at the systemic structures rather than expressing indignation about individual experiences.”