Bar Council Forced to Pay Massive Damages to Religious Rights Lawyer

In a ruling that brings the self-regulatory role of the Bar Council under closer scrutiny, the High Court has ordered the bar profession's top body to pay out damages to controversial barrister Paul Diamond.

In a ruling on March 22, the High Court said the Bar Council must pay out over £25,000 in damages after they brought an improper prosecution under rules which govern all lawyers.

Mr Diamond specialises in the field of religious freedoms and his recent cases include the British Airways Cross case, the expulsion of the Christian Union from Exeter University, and that of a magistrate who refused to place children in same-sex unions. The Bar Council alleged Mr Diamond had made a 'media' statement in a church communication.

Commenting after the case, Mr Diamond said: "I argued I was singled out because of my role in cases which highlight the threat to religious liberty in this country. But the Bar Council took on the wrong man and lost.

"This ruling is the first of its kind involving a substantial sum of money and has wide-ranging implications. It now means the Bar Council must pay the costs of barristers, at their full professional rate, if they lose a prosecution. I hope that by defending myself against this inappropriate action by the Bar that they will think twice before prosecuting."

Despite the award, Mr Diamond's victory was dampened after his accusation that the Bar Council had been motivated by animus against the values of Jews and Christians was declared unacceptable. He now faces a cost order to the Bar of £40,000.

The prosecution by the Bar Council had been brought against Mr Diamond in relation to a 'church communication' in which Mr Diamond discussed another case of his, in which an elderly preacher, Harry Hammond, was attacked by individuals who objected to his message on homosexuality. The Bar Council alleged that this offence was so serious that Mr Diamond should face a full disciplinary tribunal for debarment for life. In addition, Bar Council did not supply any witness statement to Mr Diamond and said his Mens rea was unimportant. During the course of the case, Mr Diamond alleged that he was 'threatened' on the telephone at home by a senior QC from Bar Council to dissuade him from defending himself or face further sanctions.

According to Mr Diamond, the unusual nature of the Bar's action could only be understood as a political prosecution based on hostility to the views of Jews and Christians on traditional morality. On 4 May 2005, Mr Justice Hart criticised the Bar Council for their action and invited Mr Diamond to apply for a 'strike out' of the Bar's prosecution. In order to hold the Bar to account, Mr Diamond refused and stated he wanted to 'bring the issue to the boil'. He then pressed for a prosecution and served witness summons on leading QCs so that he could cross-examine them.

The Bar Council immediately dropped the prosecution stating that they failed to read the law accurately and did not realise that Mr Diamond had no Mens rea. They also argued that they failed to supply Witness Statements due to confusion and that the 'threat' to Mr Diamond was no more than a QC who was acting inappropriately out of anger.

On 22 March 2007, Mr Justice Nelson found in favour of Mr Diamond in relation to the unlawful prosecution, and in favour of the Bar Council in relation to Mr Diamond's allegations of religious hostility. Mr Diamond failed, however, in his insistence that his prosecution by Bar Council be resumed as there was no evidence that the prosecution against him had been dropped lawfully.

The case has important ramifications as the Legal Services Bill passes through Parliament. The Bill considers the privileged right of the Bar to self regulation - the General Medical Council recently lost this privilege.

Mr Diamond said: "Naturally, I am grateful to have prevailed in my case and in my defence of the right of barristers to be able to represent unorthodox clients.

"However, I am disappointed that the learned Judge felt that it was acceptable for a barrister to be threatened in his home, because the QC was angry at my provocative act of serving a Witness Summons; a component part of a fair trial. Unless this matter is dealt with, the Bar Council is not fit for self-regulation. I propose to establish the Committee for the Independent Bar to ensure lawful conduct by Bar Council."