At the risk of stating the obvious, an allegation of sexual harassment is a serious matter. It is incumbent on chambers, as a matter of fairness and to uphold the integrity of the profession, to treat the complainant and alleged perpetrator justly.
Allegations of sexual harassment should be handled promptly and sensitively. Unsurprisingly, sexual harassment constitutes serious misconduct, which bring reporting requirements as set out in the Bar Standards Board Handbook.
Given recent coverage of sexual harassment in parliament and elsewhere, alongside the Twitter #MeToo campaign, it is worth reminding those affected by sexual harassment – victims, witnesses and chambers – of the support available to them. This support is not new, but it is probably sensible to raise awareness of its availability.
So I have written to all Heads of Chambers and all Equality & Diversity Officers to provide them with the Bar Council’s guidance and support structure. I have suggested that chambers check their policies and procedures on sexual harassment and reminded them of the Bar Council’s Sexual Harassment policy guide. I’ve also urged them to ensure everyone in chambers is aware of the zero-tolerance approach and reminded them of the availability of Bar Council’s Equality & Diversity training and other means of raising awareness and delivering training on this specific issue in chambers.
The help available for victims and witnesses includes a confidential helpline and advice on who they can turn to when reporting sexual harassment. We have collated all this support into one place on our website, which includes details of the confidential helpline, as well as instructions on how to report sexual harassment to the BSB.
It is important that every barrister knows about the available help. Beyond that, the Bar Council tries to ensure that every chambers develops its commitment to put measures in place, as outlined in the linked material, to protect their members, pupils and staff from sexual harassment.
I would like to add that I hope that barristers and chambers’ staff who are victims of sexual harassment will always speak up. If the recent coverage encourages them to do so, so much the better.
Contributor Andrew Langdon QC, Chair of the Bar for 2017, writing on the Bar Council’s Bar Blog