Law chief apologises for ‘sexist’ remark to Mishal Husain

‘Suggestive’: Law chief Joe Egan

The chief of a top legal institution yesterday apologised to BBC presenter Mishal Husain for making a ‘sexist’ joke.

Joe Egan, president of the Law Society, the professional body for solicitors, made the comments on stage during an awards ceremony at which Miss Husain was giving out the trophies.

He is reported to have said: ‘Thank you all for coming. If none of you had come, it wouldn’t have been any good. It would just have been me and Mishal on our own.’

Mr Egan then added: ‘Which, actually…’ and raised his eyebrows in a manner described by audience members as being suggestive.

The lawyer made his joke at the end of the event staged at a London hotel, at which ‘excellence awards’ had been handed to a number of lawyers, including one to the ‘Woman Lawyer of the Year’ for work as a diversity champion and promoting female career progression.

Although Miss Husain, 44, brushed off the remark, it went down badly with some lawyers online. It could still prove deeply embarrassing to the society, which has repeatedly proclaimed its dedication to the principles of inclusion and equality for women.

Mr Egan, 68, said yesterday: ‘I am sorry if any off the cuff remarks caused offence to Mishal. This was never my intention.’

But Miss Husain, who is said to be among a group of female presenters who have encouraged victims of sexual abuse at the BBC to complain to bosses, said that she had not regarded the joke as off-colour.

‘I do not recognise this interpretation of Mr Egan’s words and took no offence at all,’ she said.

The event was held on October 19, nearly a fortnight after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, but before sex pest allegations began to circulate in Westminster.

Presenter: Mishal Hussain was at a Law Society awards night

Presenter: Mishal Hussain was at a Law Society awards night

The legal website Roll On Friday, which publicised the row, said that there had been complaints from the audience. One lawyer is said to have protested that the Today presenter ‘was reimagined as a ******* dolly bird by the President of the Law Society, in case any of the women there had got confused thinking that the work we do is more important than the dresses we wear’.

But other lawyers accused Society members of over-reacting. Barrister Laura Perrins said: ‘The moral panic sweeping across the ruling class is frightening to behold.’ Miss Perrins, co-editor of the Conservative Woman website, added: ‘It is ridiculous that Mr Egan felt the need to apologise. I was raised in Catholic Ireland and the level of prudery now gripping this country would give the nuns a run for their money.’

Mr Egan, the son of a coal miner who set up his own law firm in Bolton in the 1980s, has been head of the 192-year-old Law Society since the summer.

The Law Society, which represents more than 160,000 solicitors in England and Wales, has consistently promoted equality for women as one of its major concerns. It runs a Women Lawyers Division, and its vice president, Christina Blacklaws, complained earlier this week that ‘much more needs to be done’ to advance their cause.

Generalised complaints about offensive behaviour towards women are frequently heard in the legal profession, and sometimes lawyers involved are named.