An unusual little case reported this week by Daniel Barnett’s Employment Law Bulletin, incorporating both some lessons to Claimants arguing for indirect discrimination and one of the most spectacular instances of career suicide ever appearing in the law reports.
Mr Iteshi came to the UK from Nigeria with dreams of being a barrister. An essential pre-requisite of that profession is first to serve a two-year pupillage (apprenticeship) with a set of Chambers. Without that under your belt, your time at the Bar will be limited indeed. Mr Iteshi made some 350 applications for pupillages and related roles, out of which he obtained only 5 interviews (none for pupillages) and not a single offer.
A lesser man might have concluded at that point that he and legal practice were not destined to be together and have gone quietly off to do something else instead. Mr Iteshi was however made of sterner stuff. Bearing in mind his aspiration to be a barrister, he took the unusual step of suing the Bar Council as a whole (not the individual sets of Chambers which had turned him down, which might have been an easier run) for indirect race discrimination. His argument was, to put it circumspectly, novel. He said that he would have been willing to accept an unpaid pupillage, but all the Chambers he applied to were unable to offer such a thing because a Bar Council rule from 2003 required pupillages to be paid. As a result he had been unable to find a slot in which he could demonstrate his capabilities, and so had suffered a detriment. So far so good, and factually possibly even sustainable. It was only at the point of Mr Iteshi’s leap of faith in coupling that rule, the resulting detriment and his colour to contend systemic prejudice to black Africans generally that the wheels fell off.
The Bar Council is very proud and protective of that 2003 rule, especially since it was brought in specifically to ease access into the Bar for those from low socio-economic backgrounds. It was therefore fundamentally unenthused by the suggestion that the rule was discriminatory. The EAT was equally unimpressed by the absence of any evidence at all showing that the rule operated to the particular prejudice of the black candidates it had partly been introduced to assist.
Nothing daunted, Mr Iteshi boldly suggested to the Employment Appeal Tribunal http://www.justice.gov.uk/tribunals/employment-appeals that “no one had the right” to tell him that he could not do an unpaid pupillage if he wanted – again, not an argument one would have expected to see run against the Bar Council, the very body which does indeed have that right, especially by a would-be barrister.
But nothing could stop Mr Iteshi now. With timing touched by genius he sent his Member of Parliament and the EAT an email just two days before the hearing of his case in which he accused the Employment Tribunal Judge of “fraudulent manipulation of the evidence”, the EAT of being a “self-constituted panel of deities” and the EAT Chair of being “famed by ordinary victims for being manipulative and conscious-ridden”. Lateral thinking is a much-prized attribute in the legal profession, so a very small prize awaits anyone (Mr Iteshi aside) who can tell me just what thought-process would lead to the conclusion that this could ever, even in his wildest imaginings, be a good idea.