Alexandra Wilson: Black Attorney Mistaken for Defendant 3 Times in Court

Alexandra Wilson

Instagram/Alexandra Wilson Barrister Alexandra Wilson

Alexandra Wilson is a barrister practicing in Essex County, England, who has spoken out this week about recently being mistaken for a defendant three times in one day during court proceedings.

The 25-year-old mixed-race attorney has been practicing professionally since 2018 and specializes in criminal and family law, according to her firm’s website.

In a Twitter thread on Wednesday, September 23, Wilson detailed her day in court, during which she was mistaken three times for a defendant and once told by a member of the public to wait outside the courtroom because she was a journalist.

“I’m absolutely exhausted and tbh I think a light needs to be shone on this,” she wrote. “Especially given so many people like me seem to experience the same thing.”

Here’s what you need to know about Alexandra Wilson:

1. Wilson Is an Accomplished Attorney & Author of the Book ‘In Black and White: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System’

According to her profile on her law firm’s website, Wilson has professionally practiced since her year of call in 2018, specializing in criminal and family law, representing “young and vulnerable” clients particularly in cases involving domestic abuse and finances.

She has received glowing praise from colleagues, per her profile.

“She has shown an ability to pick up a very difficult matter, in tough circumstances, even when parachuted in late in the day, and imbibe herself in the case,” one said.

This year, Wilson also published a memoir called In Black and White: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System. The memoir has a 4 1/2-star rating on Amazon currently and has already been optioned for a television adaptation, the Bookseller reported.

2. On Wednesday, Wilson Was Mistaken No Less Than 4 Times as a Defendant & a Journalist; Wilson Said the Experience ‘Really Isn’t OK’

On Wednesday, afternoon, Wilson tweeted that she was “exhausted” and said she felt the need to document what had happened to her in court earlier in the day.

According to her Twitter thread, the court’s security officer asked for her name and implied that she was on the list of defendants. She explained she was a barrister and thought little of it at first.

“At this point, I tried to shrug it off as an innocent mistake,” Wilson wrote.

Her next case of mistaken identity came from a member of the public outside the courtroom, according to Wilson’s thread. As she headed into court to discuss the case with a prosecutor, a civilian told her not to go into the courtroom and told Wilson she was a journalist. “The usher (the one person who recognized I was a barrister today) said to ignore her and to head on in,” Wilson wrote.

Then, as soon as she opened the courtroom door, another barrister asked her to wait outside, assuming again she was a defendant. The barrister “looked embarrassed,” according to Wilson, and turned around. As Wilson approached the prosecutor she needed to speak with, the court clerk “very loudly” told her to leave the courtroom. Yet again, assuming Wilson was a defendant, the clerk told her the usher would need to sign her in and asked her if she had an attorney.

“Thankfully, the prosecutor and I were eventually able to have our conversation, and the case proceeded smoothly,” Wilson said. “This really isn’t OK, though. I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work.”

3. Wilson Received an Outpouring of Support on Twitter & Extensive British Media Coverage

Wilson’s Twitter thread took off, with 42,000 likes and nearly 17,000 re-tweets as of Friday, September 25. Hundreds of supportive comments from colleagues and the public also poured in.

“Dearest Alexandra, thank you for having enough light to shine on this issue, sharing in a way I’ve not noticed others do, and still you continue to shine and shine,” a will and probate attorney commented. “Make no mistake, you are changing the world the more you shine. Thank you. Please keep going.”

Psychologist and scholar Guilaine Kinouani called the situation a “joke.”

“Alexandra Wilson was mistaken for a defendant and the court system cannot believe this; it is flabbergasted,” she wrote. “The same system that disproportionately hands harsher sentences to Black offenders cannot believe it treated a Black barrister differently. What a joke.”

Wilson’s experience spread widely through the British press, with the BBC, Guardian, Daily Mail and Scottish Legal News all publishing stories.

4. She Received an Apology From the Courts & a Spokesman Said the Incident Is Under Investigation

Kevin Sadler, the acting CEO of Her Majesty’s Courts, offered Wilson an apology via Twitter the next day, calling the treatment she received “unacceptable.”

“I’m very sorry about your experience at court yesterday – it is totally unacceptable behavior, and I’m investigating the role of my staff and contractors as a matter of urgency,” he wrote. “This is not the behavior anyone should expect, and certainly does not reflect our values. Please, would you send me further details by direct message so that I can provide a fuller response.”

Wilson told the BBC she was grateful for Sadler’s apology and hoped it would lead to “some real change.”

Heavy reached out to Sadler for further comment but did not immediately hear back.

5. Wilson Says the Incident Made Her Empathize More With Defendants in Court & She Has Co-Founded a Fundraising Effort to Help Secure Representation for Minority Defendants

On Thursday, Wilson expanded on the incident during an interview with the BBC. She explained that she had been mistaken for a member of the public or defendant in court before — just not so many times in one day. Also, Wilson said, the experience made her empathize more with defendants and how they’re often treated in court:

It kind of made me appreciate, actually, that its not particularly nice being a defendant in court either, because actually everyone should be treated with respect. The fact that I was shouted at to get out of the courtroom isn’t OK for defendants either. But yeah, it’s happened a few times, but not that many times in one day, and I think that’s why yesterday I tweeted about it, because it really did feel quite overwhelming.

You know, the vast majority of people realize that this isn’t OK. But it does make me feel uncomfortable that I have to justify my presence in court in a way my white colleagues just don’t. There were white barristers and solicitors freely entering and leaving the courtroom, and not a single one of them was challenged.

Wilson is also the co-founder of a fundraising effort called One Case at a Time, which works to provide disenfranchised minority defendants with legal representation after they have been mistreated in the court or by the state in other ways.

Heavy also reached out to Wilson for further comment but did not immediately hear back.

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