The Bar Council has appointed the Rt Hon Harriet Harman KC to chair the independent review of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, at the Bar. The independent review was commissioned by the Bar Council following its report into experiences of bullying and harassment which found that 44% of respondents had experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or discrimination in the previous two years – an increase on the previous survey results.

The report found these inappropriate behaviours were a widespread problem which , in part are a consequence of the culture at the Bar and the external pressures on the justice system. In response to the findings, the Bar Council Chair committed to addressing the problem through an independent review.

The review will seek to identify the reasons for the unacceptable levels of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, at the Bar. It will consider the impact of these behaviours, the efficacy of current measures to counter this problem, reporting mechanisms, support services, and, most importantly, it will identify solutions.

The review will take evidence from a wide range of sources and meet with members of the Bar across all circuits.

The Rt Hon Harriet Harman KC will chair the review, supported by a review team and a reference group. Ms Harman is a former long serving Solicitor General and was the Chair of the Joint Human Rights Committee and the Committees on Standards and Privileges in the last Parliament. She is a leading human rights and equalities figure and, in her various Parliamentary roles, and in drafting Parliamentary Committee reports, commanded cross-party respect and support.

The review is being launched with a call for submissions inviting all parties (including individual barristers, pupils and students and organisations) to provide evidence of the reasons for, and impact of, bullying and harassment; the reporting mechanisms and sanctions regime; and potential reforms to tackle inappropriate behaviours. Responses can be given anonymously and/or confidentially to ensure everyone can participate. The review will not address individual reports or incidents and existing reporting mechanisms (including Talk to Spot) remain in place. 

The review will take place over the next year and is due to report in June 2025.

Commenting on the appointment of Harriet Harman KC to chair the review, Chair of the Bar Council Sam Townend KC said:

“As a former Solicitor General and widely respected Chair of cross-party inquiries into standards, Harriet Harman KC is the right person to take forward this review. Harriet understands the legal professions and justice system and her wider work in Parliament will bring fresh thinking to a very difficult problem.

“The Bar Council is committed to tackling the problem of bullying and harassment at the Bar and I encourage everyone to feed into the review to give us the best opportunity to change culture and find effective solutions.

“While the review completes its work, I repeat my call for those who observe inappropriate behaviours to not leave it to the victim to take action. All of us – opponents, bystanders – can do something, whether that is simply acknowledging it to the person who has suffered it to offer support or raising matters through Heads of Chambers, Circuit Leaders, Resident Judges, the Inns, and the Bar Council’s own anonymous reporting tool, Talk to Spot. This will all contribute to helping change the culture that is needed.”

Harriet Harman KC said:

“I’m honoured to be leading this important review. It is to their credit that the Bar Council has acknowledged the problem of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment and has determined to take action to tackle it. 

“I look forward to hearing from the Bar, and all those connected with the profession, about the changes that are necessary to ensure that bullying, harassment and sexual harassment become a thing of the past.”

Barbara Mills KC will be Chair of the Bar in 2025 when the review reports. She added:

“This Bar-wide review recognises that our response to the problem of bullying and harassment cannot be focused on reporting alone – the impetus for change must not rest solely on those most affected.

“I am delighted that Harriet Harman KC has agreed to chair the review. The Bar is not alone in needing to tackle bullying and harassment, but there are Bar-specific reasons and impacts, and there will be Bar-specific solutions. I look forward to taking forward the review’s recommendations.”

The review has been welcomed by Sir Bob Neill KC (Hon), former long serving Chair of Parliament’s Justice Committee:

“This is an important and welcome initiative by the Bar Council. My committee colleagues and I have long championed the public value and standing of our legal profession, not least of the independent Bar. However, to maintain that high reputation, it is vital that the profession itself takes vigorous steps to root out all forms of bullying and harassment whenever they occur and to prevent them happening in the first place.

“My former colleague and friend Harriet Harman KC is an excellent choice to lead this review. As a fellow select committee chair, I have seen the rigour of her investigations at first hand, and vouch for her cross-party reputation for integrity and objectivity. I hope that she and the review team will have the fullest support from all who care about the future of our profession”

Chair of the Young Barristers' Committee, Amrit Kaur Dhanoa, urged junior barristers to input to the review. She said:

“Bullying and harassment disproportionately impacts younger and more junior members of the Bar, as well as women and ethnic minorities, and is inextricably linked with wellbeing. I am very pleased that the independent review is now underway and delighted that Harriet Harman KC is leading the review.

“I welcome the fact that bullying, discrimination, and harassment is now more openly discussed at the Bar – only by talking about the problem will we be able to find solutions and change the culture. The YBC looks forward to contributing to the review and I encourage all members of the junior Bar to share their views.”