Rive Gauche: A Command Performance from a Barrister now disbarred for unprofessional behaviour on twitter.

A Command Performance….

Court News reports: “A barrister who called opposing lawyers ‘slimebags’ in a series of insulting tweets from court was today (Thurs) thrown out of the profession.  David Harris was wrongly acting for an internet piracy company he owned.

He bragged that ‘whoring and drinking’ would begin after he finished the trial and described an opposing lawyer as a ‘p***k.’….”

Well… as it happens… I know @Geeklawyer well (and like him)  – an amusing figment of his own imagination who,  taking of mead and his favoured strawberry beer libations in sufficient quantities,  tweets nonsense late at night.  It would appear that he has managed to get himself disbarred for LIFE according to the Court News report.

As yet, the BSB – The Bar Standards Board –  has not posted the decision on the website nor, indeed,  managed to inform Mr Geeklawyer / Harris about  his exit from Bar Departure Gate 1 when I contacted him for his thoughts on the matter. I spend a fair bit of time thinking about “Fair” treatment of people in my reclusion these days. Fair that  Court News got “info” before Geeklawyer / David Harris?

Geeklawyer and I talked over the phone this afternoon and he was more than happy for me to write about the matter – not that I had any plans to do so when I contacted him.   I suspect that failing to disclose things to a high court judge and other unusual practice behaviour at the trial may well have had a significant bearing on the decision to disbar – I have no information on this as at the time of writing.

Assuming that the charge of bringing the profession into disrepute was one of the issues behind the decision to disbar – Mr Geeklawyer / Harris confirmed that he was indeed charged with same; I thought it would be interesting to ask what defence he put forward.  [ Mr Geeklawyer / Harris is perfectly entitled to tell me about his defence, as I am entitled to write about his account (with his blessing), given the publicity which the disbarment has attracted thus far in the press.]

The Geeklawyer / Harris  defence may be summarised as follows:

1.  It wasn’t him qua David Harris, a practising barrister – it was Geeklawyer wot dun it.   Geeklawyer doesn’t exist and is not a practising barrister recognised by The Bar Council

2. The tweets were not communications made in the course of professional practice.  They were social.

3. Social conduct does not, save in extreme cases such as criminal behaviour, form a lawful basis for sanctions by professional conduct committees as it transgresses both the right to a private life and the right to private correspondence under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Geeklawyer was able to tell me – as I wiped tears of laughter from my eyes: “Geeklawyer has the Article 8 Convention rights mentioned before. This charge is a disproportionate and meritless interference with that right to converse flippantly. To say that Geeklawyer is not able to tell his friend @XXXXX that he has a hangover because somehow the faith of the public in the Bar would be shaken to their core to learn that barristers drink is absurd. We are rarely confused with monks. The tweets are between friends and colleagues however uncouth. They are not unprofessional simply because they were made socially and outside work. It is hard to imagine that any member of the modern, as opposed to Victorian, public would be shaken by the revelation that barristers use words like ‘prick’ ‘fuck’ and make jokes about colleagues.”

Please note – for newshounds who may wish to consider this report when writing  (or, indeed, as their own – by nicking it) that –  The Court News report discloses “Harris owned Newzbin, a website which allowed users to download films illegally before the company was sued by major film companies including 20th Century Fox. He did not disclose his interest to the High Court was forced to stand down eight days into the hearing when his link to the firm was discovered.”

I’ve been tweeting for many years now with Geeklawyer.  His tweets are absurd, outrageous at times, more often than not amusing – if one accepts and understands (as most sane people do)  that Geeklawyer doesn’t exist.  I have never, as it happens, been “whoring, taking cocaine, bribing judges, calling lawyers slimeballs and pricks” with Geeklawyer.  I am certain that Mr David Harris hasn’t been doing these things either.

It will be interesting to see what weight The  Bar Standards Board gave to the twitter performances of Geeklawyer in their decision to disbar – if any. The Court News report was fairly unequivocal….and, no doubt, most useful in raising their ‘Profile and Farkin Klout rating’ – ?  “HARRIS: BARRISTER HANDED LIFETIME BAN OVER TWITTER ABUSE.”   I suspect the other unfortunate matter of not disclosing a matter to a High Court judge has caused what will be a minor inconvenience to David Harris.  I understand he has other amusements planned for his future.

Well.. there we are…. Friday tomorrow…. and it may be that we’ll see some barristers on twitter – and, indeed, some very well known solicitor lawyers –  considering their behaviour and rushing for the delete button on twitter!  (Some make a habit of deleting tweets – Bless!  I won’t be offering this post – or any of my posts … up for the Schnorvitz Prize… Pets Win Prizes ?)

***

A further thought… added later… It is just as well The Bar Standards Board is not claiming jurisdiction over fictional lawyers… Sir John Mortimer QC’s …”Rumpole”  … or even … others ?  :-)   I am confident… hopefully… that the BSB is not claiming such jurisdiction.

I am informed – and this will no doubt be confirmed or not by the BSB judgment / decision on Geeklawyer / Mr Harris when they publish it – that a fine was levied for the @Geeklawyer tweets. I really… do hope not.  That would be most interesting given that Geeklawyer does not exist?  We shall see in due course… as they say … in the new era of transparency.

After all.. how can one disbar or fine  a ‘fictional barrister’ for tweeting… or blogging ?

***

Dr Strangelove …. CEO of Muttley Dastardly LLP. is acting for me  ( I am a figment of my imagination) … and he always does the biz… always…. (I have never known Dr Ersasmus Strangelove  to lose a case …. extraordinary record… No FEE.. NO WIN.. he ain’t daft)

Friday Update… The Telegraph reports:  Barrister who Tweeted insults struck off

Harris disbarred for conduct of  a case –  and fined for the tweets…the latter interesting given that few in the profession, let alone the wider ‘public’, would have known David Harris was tweeting as Geeklawyer.  I would suggest that a fair amount of investigation work would be needed to link Geeklawyer to David Harris…. over the last four years…very few knew!

One assumes that Rumpole need not fear an investigation into bringing the profession into disrepute by drinking too much Chateau Thames Embankment at Pomeroy’s wine bar?  Mind you – it would not take sterling detective work to work out that Rumpole was the creation of Sir John Mortimer QC, so who knows?

35 thoughts on “Rive Gauche: A Command Performance from a Barrister now disbarred for unprofessional behaviour on twitter.

  1. I read the Court News report earlier today – my impression was they’d gone for a headline that mentioned Twitter to propogate RTs, but that the real reason for the disbarring was the failure by David Harris to disclose his connection to Newzbin to the court. I Googled for further information, but at that time no-one else was carrying the story. Which is a bit odd. I wonder where Court News obtained their information from……..

  2. I suspect they either had a reporter in court or the MPA douchebags briefed reporters. They’ll be wanting to get this publicised. Pricks. Yes, I can say that now. :)

  3. The newzbin case here
    http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2010/608.html
    though David Harris as acting and owning not mentioned

    and the subsequent BT case that mentions transfer of ownership of Newzbin before the first trial here
    http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2011/1981.html&query=newzbin&method=boolean

    “Newzbin1 was run by Chris Elsworth (known as “Caesium”), Thomas Hurst (known as “Freaky”) and Lee Skillen (known as “Kalante”), who were the shareholders in and directors of Newzbin Ltd until shortly before trial, when David Harris acquired their shares and became the sole director.”

    Blimey GL!

  4. Sorry – reading too quickly. From the first Newzbin case

    “The trial has followed a rather unusual course. Mr Speck, instructed by Wiggin LLP, has appeared throughout on behalf of the claimants. Mr Harris, instructed on a direct access basis, originally appeared on behalf of the defendant. On 10 February 2010, after the close of evidence, the defendant sought an adjournment in order to instruct solicitors and new counsel because it had become apparent that Mr Harris had acquired shares in the defendant and because he did not feel able to represent the defendant in the light of the way the case had developed and the evidence which had emerged. For the reasons which I gave in a short judgment on that day, I allowed that application. Kirwans Solicitors and Ms Lambert were instructed shortly thereafter and the trial resumed on 2 March 2010.”

  5. Charon.

    I was sure you were aware of them. I wasn’t until now. And I don’t know anything further. An air of the quixotic perhaps?

    But GL is a wholly independent creature ;-)

  6. GL IS a wholly independent individual….. :-)

    If he was penalised for tweets as “Geeklawye”r – given his anonymity…. does BSB have jurisdiction over fictional barristers? I don’t think so :-)

    I am.. as you know… qua Charon QC… a figment of my imagination and make that very clear in my ‘About’ section…

  7. This is the BSB account of the charges. At least the third one does not appear to relate to Twitter although we will have to wait and see:

    http://stage.bsb.netxtra.net/complaints-and-professional-conduct/disciplinaryG-tribunals-and-findings/forthcoming-hearings/david-harris/

    Incidentally judging by the year of call and Inn, it appears fhe same David Harris was up before the BSB last year as well:

    http://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/complaints-and-professional-conduct/disciplinary-tribunals-and-findings/disciplinary-findings/?DisciplineID=75129

    Sent from my iPhone

  8. I’d expect this from the SRA but not the BSB. I thought they’d be more grown up about this. Does GL diminish how the profession is viewed? No. People may think he is an ass and if so, choose not to follow him and read his tweets.

    These Quangocrats are out of control. Because they have to justify their existence, the scope of their powers will increase one day to where we’ll all have to shut everything down so we never breathe a word that someone might find offensive.

  9. I loathe “bringing x into disrepute” provisions. I’ve never seen one used in any instance other than to punish conduct they personally dislike, but cannot criminalise. Horribly open to abuse.

    It should be a requirement that actual damage to the reputation of the profession is proved. I suspect more damage was done by whichever idiot used the phrase “superfluous intermediaries” to refer to solicitors than any amount of fictitious whoring and drinking.

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  11. I’m guessing it wasn’t the tweets per se (though they’ve certainly given the Mail and the Telegraph an excuse to do their usual Shocked Victorian Maiden Aunt routine), but the context in which they were posted; plus the fact that the tribunal probably felt they were on a roll once they’d upheld the other charges. But like you say, we need to wait for the full decision…

  12. America *does* cry for GL!

    The ECHR is Blighty’s defacto Bill of Rights – and given it’s the child of the Universal Declaration and born out of the US Bill of Rights by way of FDR’s Four Freedoms – anyone who cares about the Natural law right of freedom of speech should be astounded at this regulatory mission creep.

    While GL may indeed have an argument under Article 8, I would also think he has one under 10.2.

    While the BSB, IMHO, is entitled to regulate a Barrister’s Freedom of Expression, I struggle to see how his tweets demean the reputation of the Bar.

    I found GL’s tweets unattractive. Because of this, I did not follow him. Simple. His tweets led me to the conclusion he was an odious man. They did not lead me to think any less of the Bar – and even my wee brain was able to distinguish GL’s personal schtick from the Barrister profession.

    If it is indeed the case that part of GL’s striking off was due to offensive tweets – this nation’s a goner. If the lawyers cannot feel free to speak, then who in society can?

    I’m not kidding.

    If the BSB and SRA get their way, we will all be anodyne little robots who never say anything – for fear of upsetting someone.

  13. From the Bar Standards Board website:

    http://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/complaints-and-professional-conduct/disciplinary-tribunals-and-findings/disciplinary-findings/?DisciplineID=75521

    Name: David Harris
    Status: Disbarred
    Called: October 1997
    Inn: Lincoln’s Inn
    Type of hearing: Disciplinary Tribunal (5 person)

    In breach of:

    Paragraphs 301(a)(iii), 302, 603(d) and 901.7 of the Code of Conduct of the Bar of England and Wales (8th Edition)

    Details of Offence

    Charge 1 – David Harris, being a barrister, on or before the 8th February 2010, engaged in conduct which was likely to diminish public confidence in the administration of justice or otherwise bring the legal profession into disrepute in that he, having in his private capacity promoted and participated in the activities of Newzbin Limited, accepted public access instructions to appear and appeared as counsel for Newzbin Limited in the matter of T and Others v Newzbin Limited where the issue was the legality of the activities of Newzbin Limited.

    Charge 2 – David Harris, being a barrister, on or before the 8th February 2010, engaged in conduct which was likely to diminish public confidence in the administration of justice or otherwise bring the legal profession into disrepute in that he accepted public access instructions to appear and appeared as counsel for Newzbin Limited in the matter of T and Others v Newzbin Limited, Newzbin Limited being a company in which he held 100% of the issued share capital.

    Charge 3 – David Harris, being a barrister, on or before the 8th February 2010, accepted public access instructions to appear and appeared as counsel for Newzbin Limited in the matter of T and Others v Newzbin Limited, in circumstances where, by reason of his connection with Newzbin Limited, it would be difficult for him to maintain professional independence or the administration of justice might be or appear to be prejudiced.

    Charge 4 – David Harris, being a barrister, on or before the 8th February 2010, accepted public access instructions to appear and appeared as counsel for Newzbin Limited in the matter of T and Others v Newzbin Limited, in circumstances where, by reason of his connection with Newzbin Limited, he had reason to believe that he was likely to be a witness.

    Charge 5 – David Harris, being a barrister, on the 8th February 2010, while appearing as counsel for Newzbin Limited in the matter of T and Others v Newzbin Limited in the Chancery Division of the High Court, deceived or knowingly or recklessly misled the Court in that he told the Court that he held 100% of the shares in the company on behalf of another person (when in fact he held them for his own benefit) and that he did not know if he had a significant pecuniary interest in the company (when in fact he knew he had a significant pecuniary interest in the company because he had bought 100% of the company’s issued share capital for a substantial purchase price in December 2009).

    Charge 6 – David Harris, being a barrister, between the 25th January 2010 and the 2nd March 2010, engaged in conduct which was likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession or the administration of justice or otherwise bring the legal profession into disrepute in that he, having accepted public access instructions to appear as counsel in the matter of T and Others v Newzbin Limited in the Chancery Division of the High Court, via the internet site “Twitter” and using the pseudonym “Geeklawyer”, in connection with the trial in that matter, issued the messages listed in Appendix 1.

    Sentence

    Charges 1,2,3,4 & 5 – Disbarred Charge 6 – Fined £2500

    Date of decision 26 January 2012
    Status Open to Appeal

    —–

  14. I have not been able to find on the BSB’s website the actual “reasons” for their decision as opposed to a statement of the charges and decision (reproduced above).

    Publication of “reasons” should be mandatory. The Bar prides itself (rightly) on its independence. It follows, in my view, that reasons for decisions should be given so that the public can see just why, for example, Charge 6 merited the disbarring of Mr Harris whereas the other charges did not.

    The BSB statement makes a reference to Appendix 1 but I have not been able to find this on their website. Hence, just what “Geeklawyer” said which so upset the Bar’s powers-that-be is not clear.

  15. Re reasons, it might be helpful for observers if the BSB went into more detail as the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal seem to do in their decisions, but to be honest I think it’s quite clear what David Harris was disbarred for in the descriptions of charges 1 to 5, and it is also clear that it wasn’t for any tweeting but for his conduct in the relevant case.

    This story has been framed in places online as “barrister disbarred for tweeting”; yes if DH was in trouble for posting that he was drunk or really not looking forward to court today or something and was up on a charge for that I’d say it was very harsh. As it was he seems to have used a public forum to abuse counsel on the other side – that would probably result in a fine or some kind of sanction if done any other way than via Twitter – wouldn’t it?

    I think it is a real shame if lawyers can’t post about the realities of their jobs and their legal perspectives without getting into trouble with their disciplinary body and risking disbarring or being struck off but it doesn’t seem like this case was really in that sort of category. If anything I think a fine (rather than any tougher sanctions) is quite a sensible and fair response to a few ill-advised tweets in the heat of the moment given their context in a real case, and the BSB took this view.

  16. I wonder if the fine is payable – after being disbarred?

    I am still puzzling over the issue of separate identity… @Geeklawyer…. doesn’t actually exist ? I checked… (always thorough) …. he is not a barrister on the Bar Council register.. :-)

  17. There is no separate identity for the BSB’s purposes. Assuming a tweet is not generated by a spambot, it is written by a real person. If that real person is a barrister then that’s within the BSB’s remit. Otherwise any lawyer could get away with misconduct via an online persona they controlled. If a barrister restricted their persona to posts about imaginary cases they might get away with it. If they write about real ones that they are involved with then they will probably attract attention and it in a way negates the separate identity point; obviously the identity is not that separate if the lawyer’s real-life work is the subject of the persona’s tweets.

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  21. I met David Harris/Geeklawyer at the Bloggers Conference which you were at Charon. I found him a good organiser and supportive of the speakers. I wish you and him well.

  22. What strikes me as incredibly funny is the charge of bringing disrepute upon the legal profession. Wouldn’t that be like libeling plague rats? (I don’t mean by any stretch that all of the bar deserves its bad reputation, only that it already has one so bad that worsening it is hardly possible.)

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