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Barristers face bullying and harassment rise

Research has revealed a rise in cases of bullying and harassment as barristers face ongoing work-related pressures

Of those surveyed by the Bar Council's Barristers’ Working Lives 2017: Harassment and bullying report, 21% of employed and 12% of self-employed barristers reported that they had personally experienced harassment or bullying at work in the two years prior to the survey. This shows an increase of 3% at the employed Bar and 5% at the self-employed Bar when compared with 2013.

Additionally 16% of employed and 13% of self-employed respondents stated they had experienced discrimination. This also marks an increase on 2013 (of 4% at the employed Bar and 5% at the self-employed Bar).

At the self-employed Bar, 50% of those who reported personal experience of bullying or harassment, and 47% of those reporting personal experience of discrimination, cited another barrister or colleague as responsible.

Across the seven protected characteristics explored (gender, age, ethnicity, religion/belief, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy/maternity), the most common form of bullying/harassment reported was based on gender (53% – up 5% from 2013 data), and16% was based on ethnicity (an increase of 1% compared with 2013).

More respondents reported observations than direct experience; 30% of employed and 17% of self-employed barristers said they had observed bullying or harassment (an increase of 9% and 8% respectively from 2013). Additionally, 20% of employed and 15% of self-employed barristers said they had observed discrimination in their workplace.

The report found differences between practice areas: 18% of those in criminal practice reported personal experience of bullying/harassment, compared with 8% of commercial and chancery barristers. Similarly, 26% of criminal barristers reported observing bullying or harassment compared with 16% in civil and chancery and commercial practice.

These latest figures add to ongoing concerns about barristers’ working conditions.

In May Bar Council research found that barristers were struggling with high workloads and stress due to cuts to legal aid, with many working the equivalent of two days a week unpaid. This coincided with legal workers calling off a strike to protest cuts to the justice system.

Chair of the Bar Andrew Walker said that a campaign has been launched to tackle harassment in the profession.

“Over the last 12 months a spotlight has been shone on harassment and abuse of power, not just through international campaigns such as #MeToo but also through those specific to our profession, such as Behind the Gown – a campaign launched recently by barristers committed to tackling harassment at the Bar,” he said.

Walker called on barristers to speak out if they were being harassed, and for others to call out “unacceptable behaviour".

“The findings in this report explore the prevalence and nature of reports of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the profession. The results are a cause for concern and cannot be ignored. As a profession we must do much better. We do not and will not tolerate harassment and bullying at the Bar,” he said.

“The Bar Council already offers a confidential helpline, training and other support to individuals and chambers. If any members of the Bar are facing harassment or being bullied, we urge them to use these services. We want to help. We are also working with the Bar Standards Board to ensure rules about reporting encourage chambers and others to call out and deal with unacceptable behaviour, rather than stay silent for fear of the consequences of speaking out."

Walker added that he "hope[d] the findings in this latest report remind everyone to be vigilant and to take responsibility" by challenging such behaviour.

"We must get much tougher on this, and support each other better,” he said.