Time to get tougher on harassment and bullying, says Bar Council as it publishes new report on Barristers’ Working Lives Survey

Posted On: 
25th June 2018

New figures from the “Barristers’ Working Lives 2017: Harassment and bullying” report, released by the Bar Council today, indicate that reports of harassment or bullying and discrimination within the barristers’ profession, as well as reports of observations of harassment or bullying and discrimination, have increased in comparison with previous years. 

Among other findings, the survey reveals differences across practice areas, with more barristers in criminal practice reporting personal experiences of harassment or bullying, compared to those in chancery and commercial practice. Gender was cited as the most common basis for unfavourable treatment, and, at the self-employed Bar, fellow barristers were most frequently reported as responsible for the bullying, harassment or discrimination.

The survey did not define what amounted to harassment, bullying and discrimination, so answers from respondents depended on their own perceptions.

Key findings include:

  • Reports of harassment/bullying have increased: 21% of employed and 12% of self-employed barrister respondents reported that they had personally experienced harassment or bullying at work in the two years prior to the survey. This indicates an increase of such instances of 3% at the employed Bar and 5% at the self-employed Bar when compared to 2013. 
  • Reports of discrimination follow closely: 16% of employed and 13% of self-employed respondents said they had experienced discrimination. This also signals an increase on 2013 (of 4% at the employed Bar and 5% at the self-employed Bar).
  • More reported observations: 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). 20% of employed and 15% of self-employed barristers said they had observed discrimination in their workplace (an increase of 5% and 7% respectively compared to 2013).
  • Differences between practice areas: 18% of those in criminal practice report personal experience of bullying/ harassment, compared to 8% of commercial and chancery barristers. Similarly, 26% of criminal barristers reported observing bullying or harassment compared to 16% in civil and chancery & commercial practice. Criminal practitioners also reported the highest numbers of both personal experience and observation of discrimination than other practice areas.
  • Type of bullying or harassment: 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). 16% was based on ethnicity, which is an increase of 1% compared to 2013. 37% of respondents cited ‘other’ grounds as the basis (i.e. outside the characteristics protected by equality legislation).
  • Fellow barristers most commonly cited: 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.

Chair of the Bar, Andrew Walker QC, said:

“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 own profession, such as Behind the Gown – a campaign launched recently by barristers committed to tackling harassment at the Bar.

“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.

“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.

“We have also published a work programme alongside this report, which explains our approach to tackling this issue across the Bar, and sets out further steps we are taking to build on our existing and ongoing work to combat all forms of inappropriate behaviour within the profession.

“I hope the findings in this latest report remind everyone to be vigilant and to take responsibility by challenging this behaviour.  We must get much tougher on this, and support each other better.”