Rt Hon Victoria Prentis KC MP was appointed Attorney General, the chief legal adviser to the Crown, in October 2022. Victoria was called to the Bar in 1995 and, for 17 years, was a lawyer for the Treasury Solicitors’ Department and headed up the government’s Justice and Security team.
The workplace should be a supportive environment for everyone – so I was saddened to read the Bar Council’s December 2023 report into bullying, harassment, and discrimination at the Bar.
I am fully supportive of the Bar Council’s work to tackle inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour and make sure our working lives are as fulfilling as possible.
Let me be clear: bullying, harassment and discrimination are unacceptable. It can never be right that experiencing any of this behaviour is seen as par for the course in our profession.
As I reflected when celebrating 100 Years of Women in Law at the Inns of Court last year, the Bar has changed a great deal since Dr Ivy Williams’ call in 1922. It has changed enormously even since my own call in 1995. So, we know positive changes can be made at the Bar that benefit us all.
A diverse Bar, drawn from talented people from different backgrounds and with varied experiences, will always deliver better for its clients than a Bar drawn only from a narrow section of society.
However, the Bar Council’s report shows that the great steps the legal profession has made to increase diversity are not in themselves sufficient to create a Bar where all types of barristers can flourish.
We must all be responsible for holding the profession to account and creating a more open, supportive culture, which is capable of not only systematically tackling bullying, harassment, and discrimination, but also preventing it.
I particularly commend the bravery of those barristers who have reported their experiences. It must have been difficult to do.
Highlighting inappropriate behaviour in this way has allowed the Bar Council to build a clear picture right across the board and understand where it is being observed.
Given the excellent work already started by the Bar Council, it is my sincere hope that some of the increase in reporting stems from a better understanding of how the process works as well as higher levels of confidence that there will be consequences for those who behave unacceptably.
However, meaningful change can only happen if the Bar works together with the wider legal profession, rather than being reliant on individual reports alone.
Through my sponsorship of the Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office and Government Legal Department I also feel a special responsibility for employed barristers working in these organisations. Staffing and wellbeing is an important part of my regular discussions with the heads of these organisations.
Law offers such a rewarding career – and that should be true right across the profession. For today’s Bar and the barristers of tomorrow, we will be most effective if we now come together as one Bar to tackle unacceptable behaviour.
So, as we enter the new year, I look forward to discussing the Bar Council’s ongoing work, including the upcoming review. I am keen to play an active part in encouraging a healthy, productive workplace for all.
Take part in the review
As part of our Bar-wide review to tackle bullying, harassment and inappropriate behaviour at the Bar, we are asking for your feedback and ideas. Find out more and take part in the review.