A ‘more than impertinent’ barrister - who showed ‘breathtaking arrogance’ in demanding an apology from a judge he said was ‘rude’ to him - has been slammed for his behaviour and could now face disciplinary action.
Criminal advocate Ian Stuart West came off worst when he clashed with Judge Peter Kelson QC during a morning hearing at Durham Crown Court.
Mr West did not return to court in the afternoon, despite being ordered to do so by Judge Kelson, and insisted that the judge had behaved unreasonably and discourteously towards him.
Judge Kelson, who laid into the barrister for his “impertinent, appalling, monstrous behaviour”, responded by finding Mr West guilty of contempt of court and fining him £500.
Three Appeal Court judges on Thursday upheld Mr West’s appeal against the fine, ruling that correct procedures had not been followed.
Mr West accepted that his exchange with Jude Kelson was “somewhat laconic and terse” but insisted that the judge had been rude to him.
However, the barrister was on the end of a crushing tongue-lashing from phone-hacking judge, Sir Brian Leveson, who referred his case to the Bar Standards Board for investigation.
Sir Brian said: “It is particularly worrying that, even before us, Mr West was not prepared to acknowledge that he had behaved other than impeccably.
“We do not agree: in our view, it was serious misconduct of a type that is wholly inimical to the proper discharge of his professional duties and, furthermore, in total disregard of his duty to the court.
“We have no doubt that the temperature of the exchange increased as it proceeded. That was entirely the responsibility of Mr West and, on the following day, to require an apology of the judge was more than merely impertinent”.
The judge, sitting with Mrs Justice Patterson and Sir Richard Henriques, added: “Mr West’s conduct constituted wilful and deliberate disobedience of an order of the court and an act of defiance.
“He has shown breathtaking arrogance and his demand that the judge apologise to him was more than merely impertinent.
“This conduct should be considered by the Bar Standards Board to which we direct that a copy of this judgment should be sent.”
Sir Brian said that Mr West’s behaviour in April, if it became the norm, would cause enormous damage and “cause our present system to collapse for want of sufficient funding”.
The court heard that Mr West, who is based in Middlesbrough, had been representing a client who faced charges of theft and perverting the course of justice when the row erupted.
Bryan Cox QC, for Mr West, said that Judge Kelson had “told him to sit down six times within a few seconds”, whilst he was trying to speak, and had been “banging the bench” as he did so.
After describing Mr West as an “impertinent barrister” and telling him to “mind his manners”, Judge Kelson ordered him to return in the afternoon to face him again.
When the barrister failed to appear, the judge called him back for a contempt hearing and fined him for “conscious defiance” of his “firm order”.
During the appeal, Sir Brian Leveson described the row as “a storm in a teacup in one sense”, but added: “Beneath it lies a very serious issue.”