The Bar Council has published new research findings today showing increasing numbers of barristers have had their professional lives made more difficult because of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour at the Bar.
The behaviours reported are observed across the profession and involve judges, barristers, chambers’ staff, solicitors, as well as court staff. Inappropriate behaviour at the Bar can include pejorative or demeaning language, intimidating or bullying behaviour, unwanted attention, unwanted physical contact, sexual harassment and serious abuse, inappropriate comments, online abuse, or sexist, racist and ableist behaviours.
The key findings highlight:
- Barristers have been increasingly reporting that they have experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment, and discrimination. In our most recent survey, 44% of respondents said they had experienced or observed this behaviour while working either in person or online. This is an increase from 38% in 2021 and 31% in 2017.
- Those who are more at risk of experiencing bullying, harassment and discrimination are women, people of colour, younger and more junior members of the Bar. Barristers with caring responsibilities or a disability also reported being disproportionately affected.
- Those who are complained about are generally those in a position of power or influence and include judges, more senior barristers, senior clerks, and practice managers.
- The main reason given for not reporting incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination is fear of repercussions.
The Bar Council believes this is a systemic issue; it is in part a consequence of both the culture of the Bar, and the external pressures placed on professional life at the Bar. Unrealistic expectations, impatience and frustration can be experienced as bullying. Discrimination and harassment, however, cannot be explained or excused by external pressures.
In response to the findings, the Bar Council has committed to address inappropriate and abusive behaviour by commissioning a review, established by spring 2024 and to report by spring 2025, that will consider and identify solutions, specifically to identify prevention and mitigating strategies.
Nick Vineall KC, Chair of the Bar Council, said: “The Bar should not tolerate any bullying, harassment or discriminatory behaviour. Wellbeing, retention and progression of barristers are all affected by the way we are treated by colleagues and the Bar Council is committed to addressing the problems highlighted by the data.”
Sam Townend KC, Chair-Elect of the Bar Council, said: “The Bar Council identifies bullying, harassment and discrimination as a systemic issue and we hope the judiciary, clerks, chambers professionals and the Inns will work together with us to facilitate meaningful change. We want everyone at the Bar to thrive and enjoy a fulfilling career.”
Barbara Mills KC, Vice-Chair Elect of the Bar Council, said: “No barrister should be subjected to bullying and harassment at work and the Bar Council is committed to tackling this issue. Our response to the problem cannot be focused on reporting alone as the impetus for change must not solely rely on those most affected. That is why we have decided to commission a Bar-wide review to help us to identify comprehensive solutions.”
Help shape the review by sharing your thoughts and examples of good practice.
The Barristers’ Working Lives survey is the only mechanism for surveying the entire Bar and, as such, provides key monitoring data for the profession. This regular survey of the Bar was first carried out in 2011, and undertaken on behalf of the Bar Council by the Institute of Employment Studies supported by Employment Research Ltd. The 2023 survey was conducted online and anonymously.
In total there were 3,030 barristers who responded to this part of the survey (of the 16,900 barristers who received messages to participate) being 17.4% of the Bar.