08:36, April 06 464 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-06 08:36:02
Judge disciplined over speech saying racism 'alive and well' in judiciary

Peter Herbert, a part-time judge and chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, has been disciplined by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office for making a public speech on a political issue.

The decision to write to him with formal advice about his misconduct follows criticisms he made of the Electoral Commission’s decision in 2015 to remove the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, from office.

Herbert, who has been awarded the OBE, is a barrister and sits as a recorder in the crown court, as well as being a fee-paid employment judge and a fee-paid immigration judge. The disciplinary action was endorsed by the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the justice Secretary, Liz Truss.

The JCIO said Herbert had “been issued with formal advice after making a public speech criticising the election commissioner’s decision in 2015 to declare Lutfur Rahman’s election as mayor of Tower Hamlets void. A disciplinary panel found that the recorder’s comments were inappropriate and put the reputation of the judiciary at risk, which amounted to misconduct.”

Issuing formal advice is not the lowest level of punishment available to the JCIO after finding that a judge has committed a disciplinary offence.

In his speech, Herbert had said: “Racism is alive and well and living in Tower Hamlets, in Westminster and, yes, sometimes in the judiciary.”

In April 2015, following an investigation into a disputed vote, the Electoral Commission barred Rahman from holding public office for five years.

Herbert responded to the JCIO disciplinary hearing by suing the Ministry of Justice for alleged race discrimination at an employment tribunal. That case, it is understood, has yet to be heard.

In a letter sent to the lord chief justice this week objecting to the disciplinary process, Herbert said: “I unfortunately regard the recommendation of the disciplinary panel and your decision taken together with that of the minister of justice [Truss] as forming a pattern of differential treatment based on my race as well as victimisation ...

“The message is clear, that BME judges are to be referred for disciplinary misconduct proceedings on spurious grounds whilst white high court judges are above the law. They can act with impunity ...

“I fundamentally disagree that what I said posed any risk to the reputation of the judiciary. On the contrary your decision and that of the minister herself, coupled with the actions of the panel combine to leave me in no doubt this is an example of direct race discrimination and victimisation”

Herbert has received the support of Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence. She said last year that the case against Herbert demonstrated that “no matter what your achievements or expertise, your experience is no better than a young black man on the street who is seen as a threat to the justice system simply on account of the colour of their skin”.