Barbara Hewson

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Barbara Hewson
Barbara Mary Hewson

Died (aged 59)[1]
Alma materTrinity Hall, University of Cambridge
OccupationBarrister; writer

Barbara Mary Hewson (1961[3] – 9 January 2021) was an Anglo-Irish barrister with a practice in public law in both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.[1] Hewson specialised in Court of Protection work, human rights, judicial review, and regulatory defence cases. She was interested in reproductive health and the rights of pregnant women, the mentally incapacitated and the mentally ill.

A controversial advocate for lowering the age of consent, in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal to end the "persecution of old men", the removal of anonymity in sexual abuse cases and the ending of Operation Yewtree, she was suspended from practice for two years for offensive social media comments in December 2019, a suspension later reduced in light of her terminal illness.[4][5][1]


Although born in Ireland (she is a cousin of musician Bono, né Paul David Hewson), Barbara Hewson studied at St. Leonards-Mayfield School, Mayfield, East Sussex (1972-79). She went on to study English at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge (1979-83).

She earned her B.A. (Hons) and upgraded her degree to a M.A. via the then Polytechnic of Central London, now the University of Westminster, where she obtained her conversion diploma in Law. In 1985 she was called to the Bar of England and Wales. In 1987, Hewson began her career in the Chancery bar, doing cases about wills, land and trusts, and she then joined a chambers specialising in EC and public law.[6][1]

Practice profile[edit]

Hewson appeared in a number of high-profile cases. In the 1990s, she campaigned against court-ordered treatment of pregnant women, claiming that family courts were depriving women of fundamental rights to personal autonomy and to a fair trial. She was critical of the Court of Appeal's ruling in the case of Jodie and Mary, the Maltese conjoined twins, in 2002, and acted for pro-life campaigner Bruno Quintavalle in an unsuccessful bid to stop the twins' separation.[7]

In Ireland, she appeared in a number of cases in the Four Courts in Dublin, notably concerning the home birth midwife Ann Kelly during 1997–2000, but also vulnerable adults.[8][9][10][11]

In 2010, she acted for the family of David Gray at the inquest into Mr Gray's death following an overdose of Diamorphine, administered by locum German doctor Daniel Ubani, who had been recruited by Take Care Now. Coroner William Morris gave a verdict of gross negligence manslaughter, and made 11 Recommendations to the Department of Health to improve out-of-hours GP services.[12] The Times profiled Hewson as its Lawyer of the Week on 11 February 2010.[13]


She had been a trustee of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service since 2007. She was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Westminster in 2012. She was a founder-member of the Association of Women Barristers (AWB) in 1991.[14] The same year, Hewson was elected to the Bar Council of England & Wales. As Press Officer for the AWB, she became known for commenting on a range of issues concerning women and the law in national media.[citation needed]


Hewson was long opposed to state paternalism in the field of medical decision-making, and strongly supported patient autonomy.[15] She supported abortion rights for women,[16][17] and women's rights in childbirth, arguing that abortion should be removed from criminal law.[18] She was a critic of Operation Yewtree.[19]



Hewson was involved in controversy in 2013, after the NSPCC's Press Officer strongly urged her to remove or reword an article she had written for Spiked Online on 8 May entitled "Yewtree is Destroying the Rule of Law,"[20] a few hours after it was published. Her article criticised the role of the NSPCC (which she called a "moral crusader") and the Metropolitan Police in treating complainants as "victims" in the wake of the Savile scandal, and the proliferation of prosecutions of elderly defendants. She had noted that the crimes of Stuart Hall (who had pleaded guilty to numerous charges of indecent assault) constituted misdemeanor offences, as opposed to crimes like rape and murder. She had proposed that there be a statute of limitations for criminal sex offences; that complainant anonymity be removed, and that the age of consent, which was raised by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1885 should be changed back to the previous age of thirteen. Hewson rejected the NSPCC's demand, citing Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The NSPCC then said it would take this to news desks. The NSPCC proceeded to attack Hewson publicly for her views, calling them "out-dated and simply ill-informed." Hewson then experienced a media storm. On the evening of 8 May 2013, her then chambers Hardwicke issued a statement proclaiming "shock" at her views in the Yewtree article for spiked.[21]

Hewson stood by her article, invoking Voltaire.[22] She received menacing messages via social media,[23] but also many messages of support via e-mail and bloggers, concerned by Operation Yewtree and supporting the principle of free speech.[24][25] Brendan O'Neill, editor of Spiked Online, spoke out in Hewson's defence on BBC's Radio 5, saying "I published it because it's a fantastic article."[citation needed]

On 12 May 2013, Irish Independent columnist Eilis O'Hanlon commented: "The vehemence of the reaction against Barbara Hewson demonstrates that she was certainly right to compare the public mood around this issue to a witch-hunt, since it is in the nature of witch-hunts to not only shout down opposition, but also to attack what you think someone said, or what you wish they'd said, rather than what they did say."[26]

Sociologist Frank Furedi stated that Hewson had been "morally lynched" for expressing her political opinions, and accused the NSPCC of "moral blackmail."[27] Rod Liddle then criticised the NSPCC and Hardwicke in an article for The Spectator.[28] Hewson was profiled in The Times' Law Section on 26 September 2013.[29]

On 25 October 2013, Hewson was one of 100 women invited by the BBC to a unique day of debate and discussion about women's role in society.[30]

On 30 October 2013, she debated the proposition "Is Rape Different?" at the LSE with Reader-in-Law Helen Reece, Prof. Jennifer Temkin, and Chief Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal, arguing that women should resist special treatment in such cases on equality grounds.[31][32]

Some feminist academics later attacked Hewson's and Reece's role in the debate.[33][34] Their reaction was criticised by the Law Editor of spiked, who had attended the debate.[35] Hewson then wrote an article for spiked amplifying her views.[36]

In 2019, she was suspended from practising for two years for offensive social media comments in December 2019.[4][5]

However, Mr Justice Pepperall later reduced the suspension to one year but said it was based on “significant evidence of additional mitigating circumstances” in Hewson’s terminal cancer diagnosis which were not before the Bar tribunal. In this way, Hewson died with her bar privileges intact.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e "High Court grants barrister her "dying wish" and halves suspension". Legal Futures. 12 January 2021.
  2. ^ "Death Notice of Barbara Hewson".
  3. ^ Remembering Barbara Hewson,, 13 January 2021.
  4. ^ a b Ames, Jonathan (20 December 2019). "Barrister Barbara Hewson suspended for offensive social media comments". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Barrister Barbara Hewson ordered to be suspended from practice for two years".
  6. ^ "Barbara Hewson".
  7. ^ "A (Children), Re [2000] EWCA Civ 401". 3 November 2000. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  8. ^ "O'Ceallaigh v. Fitness To Practice Committee [1998] IESC 60; [1999] 2 IR 552". 11 December 1998. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  9. ^ "An Bord Altranais v. O'Ceallaigh [2000] IESC 21; [2000] 4 IR 54; [2000] 4 IR 102". 17 May 2000. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  10. ^ "K. (P.), Re. [2001] IESC 3". 19 January 2001. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  11. ^ "K.(C.) v. Northern Area Health Board & Ors [2003] IESC 34". 29 May 2003. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  12. ^ Meikle, James; Campbell, Denis (4 February 2010). "Doctor Daniel Ubani unlawfully killed overdose patient". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  13. ^ Tsang, Linda (11 February 2010). "Lawyer of the week: Barbara Hewson". The Times. London.
  14. ^ "Association of Women Barristers". Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  15. ^ "LM 115: Could the High Court order you to have an operation?". Archived from the original on 11 March 2000. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  16. ^ Hewson, B. (2001). "Reproductive autonomy and the ethics of abortion". Journal of Medical Ethics. 27: ii10–ii14. doi:10.1136/jme.27.suppl_2.ii10. PMC 1765549. PMID 11574652.
  17. ^ "Legal Profession News | Latest Updates for Legal Professionals". 15 October 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  18. ^ "Abortion Should Be Removed From Criminal Law". The Huffington Post UK. 18 October 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  19. ^ "Age of consent should be 13, says barrister". BBC News. 9 May 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  20. ^ "Yewtree is destroying the rule of law". Spiked Online. 8 May 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  21. ^ "Statement from Hardwicke" (Press release). Hardwicke Chambers. 8 May 2013. Archived from the original on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  22. ^ Hough, Andrew (9 May 2013). "Allow legal sex at 13 to stop 'old men abuse persecutions', says barrister". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  23. ^ Peter. "The Blog That Peter Wrote". Archived from the original on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  24. ^ "Barbara Hewson is wrong. She must be defended". Barrister Blogger. 9 May 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  25. ^ Mic. "Barbara Hewson: 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty' Applies to Suspected Pedophiles Too". Mic. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  26. ^ O'Hanlon, Eilis (12 May 2013). "'Witch-hunt' has elements of guilty 'til proven innocent". Irish Independent. Dublin. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  27. ^ Furedi, Frank (13 May 2013). "The moral lynching of Barbara Hewson". Spiked Online. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  28. ^ Liddle, Rod (18 May 2013). "Back off, Mencap – let idiot councillors express their idiot opinions if they want to". The Spectator. London. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  29. ^ Frances Gibb (26 September 2013). "Historical sex abuse cases have been 'hijacked by crusaders'". The Times. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  30. ^ "100 Women: Who took part?". BBC News. 22 November 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  31. ^ "2013 Barbara Hewson Rape Hysteria from Victorianism to Feminism". 10 October 2014. Retrieved 11 June 2015 – via YouTube.
  32. ^ "Public lectures and events: media player". London School of Economics. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  33. ^ Editors, The (28 May 2015). "Editorial: A Response to the LSE Event "Is Rape Different?" | feminists@law". Feminists@law. 3 (2). Retrieved 11 June 2015.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  34. ^ "Rape is Different: Academic Impact Sinks to New Lows". 15 November 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  35. ^ "We must be free to question rape laws". Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  36. ^ "Believe the victim: a recipe for injustice". Retrieved 11 June 2015.

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