Bullying and harassment is still ‘endemic’ in some areas of the bar, a report has found, as barristers demand new ways to report complaints.
A study by YouGov found that harassment, bullying and discrimination is ‘widespread and in some place endemic at the bar’ and is perceived to be tolerated because of the profession’s ‘macho and competitive’ nature.
Pupils and junior barristers are most vulnerable to mistreatment, the report found, with many respondents claiming that they had been shouted and sworn at by senior members of chambers, and subject to rude comments about their appearance, sexuality, intelligence and accent.
The study also identified a ‘huge amount of reluctance to report misbehaviour to the regulator’ as barristers claim there is a lack of ‘clear, anonymous and supportive formal and informal pathways’ to report incidents.
‘Currently, not all feel comfortable approaching the Bar Standards Board when they experience issues as they do not believe the BSB is “in touch” with the reality of the bar. There is a role for other organisations, such as the Bar Council and networks, to provide a middle ground where barristers can seek guidance and report lower level incidents,’ it said.
When asked what role the BSB should have in helping barristers report incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment, many did not feel it was appropriate. ‘In some senses, the organisation was seen as too paternalistic and authoritarian, when, often what a barrister needs is a more welcoming and maternalistic proposition,’ the report said.
Amit Popat, BSB head of equality and access to justice, said: ‘It is plain from the study that there are significant cultural factors, including power imbalances, which inhibit the reporting of bullying and harassment. The BSB will therefore be convening a roundtable with key stakeholders in the near future to discuss how, within the framework of chambers, supportive arrangements can be established which enable incidences of bullying and harassment to be reported and properly addressed. This must be a high priority for the profession.’