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Friday, 08 June 2018

Barrister loses challenge for offensive comments about teenage sexual assault victim

Written by Sian Harrison

A senior barrister who was reprimanded for making "offensive" remarks about a teenage sex abuse victim has lost a High Court bid to clear his name.

Howard Godfrey QC said the 16-year-old girl, who had been plied with alcohol and sexually assaulted, was "not unaccustomed" to drinking and was "not a young, innocent girl".

The comments were part of his legal submissions during a hearing at the Court of Appeal in July 2015, when he argued the offender's sentence should be reduced.

Although he did not realise at the time, the girl's mother was in court and later complained about his remarks.

A disciplinary panel of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) concluded Mr Godfrey's comments implied the victim bore responsibility for the assault and were "offensive and unnecessary".

Mr Godfrey, who has been a barrister for 47 years and a QC for 26, was reprimanded in May and ordered to complete a training course within a year.

Challenging the board's findings at a hearing in December, his barrister Ian Stern QC told two judges at the High Court in London he had received no other complaints in his career.

They said the remarks were "arguably necessary" and he should have been cleared of any wrongdoing by the board.

But, dismissing his appeal, Lady Justice Sharp said "great care" was needed given the nature of the case he was dealing with when he made the comments.

Sitting with Mr Justice Spencer, she said: "This was not a case of clumsy use of language, or a submission made and immediately regretted.

"Nothing that took place during the hearing excused the appellant's remarks, nor did his apparent failure to appreciate the limits of what he was permitted to do."

The judge added: "The tribunal concluded that an attack on a victim in these circumstances was likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in the profession.

"Like the tribunal, we are conscious of the appellant's lengthy and otherwise unblemished legal career.

"However, regrettably, we are satisfied that the tribunal was entitled, indeed right, to reach the conclusions that it did."

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