Barrister who slapped colleague's bum at party was 'blowing off steam'
Married barrister, 36, who slapped 22-year-old female colleague’s bottom at work Christmas party after telling her ‘I really wanted to smack your a**e’ during Secret Santa game was ‘blowing off steam’, tribunal hears
- Dominic Woolard, 36, held 22-year-old pupil barrister around the neck at party
- He whispered to her ‘I really wanted to smack your a**e’ after she bent over sofa
- Five minutes later, the father-of-two slapped the unnamed women on backside
- Clerk of London chambers intervened when Woolard again pulled her on to him
- The experienced criminal barrister claimed he was just being playful at the party
- Bar Disciplinary Tribunal ruled he acted in a ‘sexual’ manner without consent
A married criminal barrister who slapped a junior female colleague’s bottom at their work Christmas party told a disciplinary tribunal he was just ‘blowing off steam’.
Dominic Woolard, 36, held the 22-year-old pupil barrister around the neck and whispered to her ‘I really wanted to smack your a**e’ after she bent over a sofa hunting for a lost ‘Secret Santa’ present.
Five minutes later, the father-of-two slapped the unnamed women on the backside, causing her physical pain.
The clerk of the London chambers later had to intervene when Woolard again pulled her on to his lap.
The experienced criminal barrister, who has been a CPS Crown Court prosecutor, claimed he was just being playful at the party, where colleagues were ‘blowing off steam’.
But in its full judgment published today, the Bar Disciplinary Tribunal ruled he acted in a ‘sexual’ manner without consent, violating the woman’s dignity.
It found him guilty of 12 charges of professional misconduct and ordered him to pay nearly £10,000.
Dominic Woolard (pictured), 36, held the 22-year-old pupil barrister around the neck and whispered to her ‘I really wanted to smack your a**e’ after she bent over a sofa hunting for a lost ‘Secret Santa’ present
Five minutes later, the father-of-two slapped the unnamed women on the backside, causing her physical pain. Pictured: Woolard with woman believed to be his partner
Chairman Lyndsey de Mestre QC told Woolard: ‘The words you said to Ms A, the touching, pulling and slapping of her in a sexual manner were degrading and offensive.
‘They showed a selfish focus on your own sexual desires, a wholly inappropriate absence of respect for Ms A and had a negative impact upon her, for which you must take sole responsibility.’
The three-person panel stopped short of suspending him because it found him to be remorseful and heard he was having counselling after resigning from his chambers.
Woolard, of Hertfordshire, was reprimanded and ordered to pay a fine of £6,000 and costs of £3,600.
The panel noted Woolard and Ms A barely knew each other at the time of the party on December 21, 2018.
The clerk of the London chambers later had to intervene when Woolard again pulled her on to his lap. Pictured: Dominic Woolard, right, and left with woman believed to be his partner
The Bar Disciplinary Tribunal ruled the married father of two and experienced criminal barrister acted in a ‘sexual’ manner. Pictured: Woolard left, with woman believed to be his partner
Woolard, a member of Lincoln’s Inn, had been at their specialist criminal law chambers in London for a year after moving from another set in Northampton while the woman was in her first six months of pupillage.
She was careful to drink little alcohol at the bash whereas he had more than he was used to but was not drunk, the tribunal found.
The barristers enjoyed some communal singing and a ‘Secret Santa’ exchange of gifts.
Woolard then had a playfight with a male colleague – described by the tribunal as ‘rambunctious horseplay’.
The colleague clattered into Ms A, sending her crashing into a wall and causing her Secret Santa present, a ceramic mug in the shape of a unicorn, to break.
She bent over a sofa to retrieve the missing piece of the mug while Woolard shone a phone torch to assist her.
In its judgment, the panel ruled: ‘There was no eye contact or physical contact or indeed any exchange at all between them at this stage.
‘Suddenly and without any prior warning, Mr Woolard grasped Ms A around the neck from behind and pulled her backwards.
‘The words which accompanied the touch – and are admitted by Mr Woolard – namely ‘I really wanted to smack your a**e’ – were sexual in nature.’
Woolard claimed to the tribunal he believed the woman was consenting to being touched because of the ‘light-hearted playful atmosphere at the party where people were ‘blowing off steam’.’
But Ms A, who had her back to Woolard, told the hearing she was ‘shocked and froze’ when he whispered into her ear.
The panel went on: ‘Less than five minutes after the neck holding and whispering incident, she felt a hard smack on her bottom.’
A three-person tribunal found Woolard (pictured), who was in a position of professional seniority, violated the woman’s dignity during the incident
A ‘very upset’ Ms A decided to leave the party and was saying her goodbyes to colleagues when Woolard again grabbed her and puled her backwards on to his lap.
A male chambers clerk rescued Ms A by pulling her off Woolard, saying: ‘That’s enough of that.’
The panel rejected the claim of Woolard, who was 34 at the time, that he was ‘of similar age’ and standing to the 22-year-old pupil.
It found he was in a position of professional seniority to her and diminished public trust in the legal profession through his ‘unwanted conduct’.
The panel heard Woolard’s harassment of Ms A was ‘out of character’ and three junior female barristers gave supportive character references.
In advance of the full judgment being published, commentators on website Legal Cheek had complained the tribunal’s sanction was overly lenient.
Woolard, a graduate of University of Wales, Aberystwyth, was called to the Bar in 2008 and has worked for the CPS as a Crown Court prosecutor on the South East and Midlands circuits.
An online legal profile says he is ‘known for his direct and up front approach’ and has the ‘ability to get into the mind of his opponent.’
When not in the courtroom, he is said enjoy playing Sunday league football and ‘likes nothing more than a trip to the theatre’.
The ruling is open to appeal.
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