Fearless Black rights campaigner Peter Herbert is using the huge experience he has amassed as a long-serving lawyer to take on the might of the British legal system in his fight against its racism.
He is suing High Court judges, the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, and government justice minister Liz Truss. What is more, he wants Judge Robertson, who presides over the north east of England employment circuit and was scheduled to hear his case next week, taken off it because he claims the judge is biased against him. The case has been postponed to July.
Herbert is a recently retired judge who was awarded an OBE honour by the UK Queen for his services to equality, diversity and human rights. He has also chaired the Society of Black Lawyers for more than two decades.
Herbert is calling on a number of high profile figures to defend themselves for the way he was treated at an ongoing Leeds employment tribunal. He accuses them of “racism, bullying and victimisation”.
Herbert told The-Latest he has brought the case because race discrimination was a “significant problem” that was causing “deep distress” to lawyers from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
Judge Robertson is accused by Herbert of racial bias and a personal conflict of interest.
It is alleged that the regional employment judge pretended he did not know the dates that Herbert would be unable to attend court. Herbert claims a white judge claimant would not have been treated in the same way.
It is his belief that if Robertson were to hear the case, he would attempt to protect senior members of the judiciary by dismissing it.
If Herbert wins, his next step would be to ask the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate the judiciary, which is within its powers.
However, he is sceptical about his chances.
Speaking to The-Latest, he said: “If any judge finds in my favour, they’re effectively done. I’m accusing judges of racism and I’m going before a white man. It’s hard to go up against the Establishment.”
Cordella Bart-Stewart, Director of the Black Solicitor’s Network, back up Herbert’s allegation of systemic racism when she said Black solicitors and barristers are least likely to be recommended for judicial appointment regardless of seniority.
Race diversity in the profession remains a serious issue.
In April 2015, Herbert spoke at a political rally in Stepney, East London, UK.
He criticised a decision made by the supposedly independent Electoral Commission that banned from office former Tower Hamlet mayor Luftur Rahman. Rahman was witchhunted by Labour, his former party, for standing up for African Caribbeans and Asians in his borough. Herbert observed: “Racism is alive and well and living in Tower Hamlets, in Westminster and, yes, sometimes in the judiciary.”
A suspected member of the far right UKIP party complained about Herbert’s speech to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO).
As a result, he was given a written warning for straying into politics. Later on, he was given a formal warning and found guilty of misconduct. Attempts to stop him sitting as a judge were eventually abandoned.
Later, in August 2018, Herbert received an apology from the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) for what it described as his unlawful suspension.
Herbert is believed to be the first judge in British legal history to be disciplined for criticising a fellow judge.
He is convinced his race played a role in the judgement against him.
For example, he points out that two people described him as “aggressive” in their witness statements. This is a common stereotype unfairly levelled at Black men and women.
In April 2017, Herbert complained that his treatment had been influenced by institutional racism in a letter to the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss and the former Lord Chief Justice, and he did not publicly accept his sanction.
The alleged UKIP member once again complained to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, this time for the letter he wrote.
As a result, again, Herbert was referred for dismissal.
He maintains his allegations of race discrimination, harassment and victimisation against the judiciary and these will now be heard on Monday.
Speaking to The-Latest, he shared the toll that fighting a legal battle so long had taken on him.
He explained: “The whole thing has been so disproportionate. When they wanted to suspend me, it was the anniversary of my mum passing away and I found out my closest friend at the bar had died.
“The whole thing left me humiliated, angry and worried about my future.”
Though there is a guide to judicial conduct, it does not mandate that people should be dismissed for criticising other judges.
The stress of the situation contributed to his decision to retire early and relocate to Kenya. But he is determined to fight the battle, though he feels the odds are against him.
“I feel I’ve got to make a stand. It demonstrates to them that they are not above the law and they cannot act with impunity,” he explained.
Black politicians and other high profile figures are aware of the case, and are supporting Herbert’s campaign.
MP Claudia Webbe said: “The absence of Black and minority ethnic judges in the system is shocking and the treatment of the judges who have managed to be appointed demonstrates they are not treated as equals under the law.”
She added: “Bullying, harassment, discrimination and the wholesale denial of any form of discrimination is what they experience on the bench. If the Judiciary cannot treat their own colleagues fairly what hope is there for our community?”
Bell Ribeiro-Addy, another Labour MP, said: “Peter has highlighted that the Black and minority ethnic community are not treated in any walk of life as if we are full British citizens.”
She went on: “The finding of misconduct says more about the establishment seeking to condemn any criticism and pretend that anyone who claims there is racism in the Justice system is simply making a “scandalous and unwarranted” attack on the former Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor.”
Lee Jasper, a former adviser to the London mayor on race said: “Peter would not face this action if he was white, male and middle class. This highlights the continued racial bias that exists in the British Judicial system.”
Former ITV chat show host Chrystal Rose said: “When the very best of Black professionals, such as Peter Herbert OBE, are racially discriminated against in this manner, it raises little hope of there ever being a fair/just society and judiciary. It also highlights that racism must be challenged whenever and wherever it raises it’s ugly head, despite the possible personal ramifications it may have on the challenger’s life/career. I support Peter Herbert OBE 100%.”
Commenting on social media, Paul Burns, a member of the public wrote: “On 3 April 2019, The Telegraph reported that the Lord Chief Justice had claimed that the scale of sexism in UK courts is exaggerated. However, he also acknowledged the finding of a handful of examples.”
He added: “Is this really so different from Peter Herbert saying that racism sometimes exists within the judiciary? I don’t think so and the very different response to Peter would seem to confirm the judicial establishment is racist.”
Maria O'Reilly posted: “Peter Herbert and the Society of Black Lawyers in the eighties came to Liverpool to represent Black people and in doing so exposed the racism and apartheid in the criminal justice system. No Black jurors no Black magistrates or crown court judges. No senior Black barristers.”
She went on: “By their [the Society of Black Lawyers] presence and pro-bono work working with the L8 [Liverpoll 8, Toxteth] Law Centre, Black representation was increased in the courts they challenged racism and steotyping directed at them and their clients, so we have much to be proud of through their principled approach it is not just political to challenge racism it is the duty of all right-minded people Black and white to do so. To be victimised is against the law. We must for stand up for what’s a human right to be treated and have the same opportunities for justice as your white peers.”
Lawyer Peter Simm wrote: “I just want to reiterate what Maria O’Reilly has said. I came to know Peter Herbert when I was a solicitor at the Liverpool 8 Law Centre in the ‘80s. I recall his passionate advocacy in the criminal courts challenging the brutal racism of police officers and challenging the blind conventions of the judiciary. Peter became a beacon of hope in Liverpool and beyond for many black people criminalised by prejudice and racism. His example has inspired me over the years in my own work fighting for fairness and justice for asylum seekers and immigrants. Peter Herbert’s name is synonymous with justice – I support him totally.”
And Chandra Ghosh said: “I support Peter Herbert 100%.The racism within the judiciary has been known for years. As with all other forms of institutional racism it needs to be challenged. With the Black Life matters movement now getting recognition this is the best time to challenge the Las bastion of racist practice.”
Christina Halle saluted Herbert with the words: “We are So Proud of You Peter. Thank You’ for your courage and integrity. No matter how it seems, the universe of positivity, justice and truth will Stand YOU WILL HAVE THE VICTORY, KEEP FAITH AND BELIEF, YOUR EFFORTS ARE NOT IN VAIN!!”