Judges are guilty of bullying and older male barristers are the main cause of sexual harassment in the legal profession, according to a Bar Council survey for The Times newspaper.
Despite moves by the Bar Council over the last year to combat bullying and sexual harassment, more than half (55%) of the 1,500 barristers questioned said the problems have not gone away. Respondents to the survey conducted in October and November said that bullying is rife in the judiciary and that lawyers continue to be harassed and propositioned by senior colleagues.
The report in The Times stated that one barrister said: ‘Judicial bullying remains alive and well, particularly if you are counsel appearing from outside of the judge’s and the other barrister’s patch. I’ve been referred to as “legs” by a male barrister, I’ve had it suggested that compliments given by a QC about my advocacy while I was a junior barrister were only given “because he wanted to get into my knickers”.’
Another said: ‘Look at how appalling some judges are to advocates and it doesn’t surprise me at all that advocates replicate this behaviour to each other. While so few judicial bullying complaints are upheld, the problem will never be addressed.’
While a further reported: ‘The stench of testosterone is overwhelming at the criminal Bar and that odour is getting stronger given the lack of diversity. Only better funding will attract a bigger pool of talent and help retain the few women.’
Figures released last year in the Barristers’ Working Lives 2017: Harassment and Bullying report, showed that harassment or bullying and discrimination within the profession, was on the increase.
Commenting on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, Bar Vice Chair Amanda Pinto QC said it was difficult for barristers to stand up to judges when they don’t want to ruin their client’s case. ‘That is where the Bar Council can help… with channels to the senior judiciary… as well as calling it out in public.’
She added: ‘The positive is that this is being talked about,’ and said that the Bar gathering and publishing evidence was ‘the first step to addressing it’.
In a lecture in November, Gresham Professor of Law, Jo Delahunty QC, said sexual harassment at the Bar was rife and unacceptable. But she added that it was not a toxic profession, but a ‘challenging, vibrant, intellectually stimulating and highly rewarding sector’.
She stressed that there is ‘a group of senior men and women out there who want to help and are finding ways to do so’.
Delahunty called for open door policies and safe spaces in Inns, chambers and Bar school for discussion, and changes to the mandatory reporting rule. She told senior barristers ‘you have the power to act. Silence makes you complicit’.
The Bar Council is devising new training and resources for chambers to respond to and prevent bullying and harassment. The confidential helpline is 0800 169 2040.