The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has attacked ‘monstrous’ behaviour from some in senior positions who it says are holding back progress on wellbeing and diversity within the profession.
In his weekly message published today CBA chair Chris Henley QC said he is ‘getting irritated’ by too much talk about diversity with ’nothing discernible’ happening.
Henley said many senior roles are occupied by people who have ‘never changed a nappy, had years of interrupted sleep, or the daily admin of kids, and who practised at a time when the work was plenty and the fees were "wow"’.
‘They all have a choice, to continue to manage an orderly decline and withering of the publicly funded profession or to fight for it. Imagination, courage and a little humility will save us,’ he said. ‘It is patently not being taken sufficiently seriously.’
Henley shared examples of emails from barristers who had faced unsympathetic and rude judges. One judge told a female barrister who raised a potential childcare issue that she ‘should really think about whether the bar is right for you.’ Another contacted Henley to say she had been treated ‘monstrously’ for having the 'audacity to raise an issue that impacted on her wellbeing’.
A mother of ’very young children’ said she had worked herself so hard that when she finally took a day off and sought help, her GP immediately called an ambulance. Her email said: ’I’m fine, the NHS treated me well and I’m back home with strict instructions to rest. I’ll listen and for once put myself first but it took a hospital trip to make me!!
'So I’ll not work next week. I’ll lose money. No one will pay me sick pay. And all those hearings that I did when frankly I shouldn’t have been working have been covered and not rearranged thus saving the MoJ money. I wonder does anyone in the MoJ realise (or care!) that this isn’t rare or unusual but just an everyday thing the criminal bar does to keep the system running and because they are so committed.’
Henley said that although there are organisations to support and promote women within the profession, more needs to be done. Richard Atkins QC, bar chair for 2019, is planning on producing guidance on emails, including that barristers should not be expected to be available 24 hours a day, which Henley said he expects to be published soon.
‘This stuff is not complicated, so let’s get on with it,’ Henley wrote. ’I know there are many good people in senior positions who sincerely want to support you; they need to speak up.’