The Bar Council has encouraged barristers to speak up about judicial bullying, following an anecdotal rise in judges making lawyers cry in court. The representative body is due to meet with the judiciary’s equality and diversity lead this week to discuss the types of incidents involving judges that get reported and the impact they have on barristers.
Earlier this month, networking organisation Women in Law noted a growing number of incidents of judges making advocates cry in court, while Women in Family Law said it was ‘absolutely dismayed’ by the experiences shared on its anonymous submission form about bullying and harassment in the legal profession.
A Bar Council spokesperson said there is ‘no doubt’ that judicial bullying is a problem and that it is talking to the judiciary and others about ‘stamping it out’. The council added that is has received complaints during the pandemic where barristers have been required by judges to attend court in person when it might not be safe for them to do so due to health issues, and the hearing could have gone ahead remotely.
Around half of the reports the Bar Council receives via its Talk to Spot app – which allows barristers to anonymously record inappropriate behaviour at work – relate to judicial bullying. However, app uptake remains low and the council said the reports are ‘likely to be just the tip of the iceberg’.
The Bar Council recently surveyed members of the profession for its working lives survey and specifically asked for responses in relation to instances of judicial bullying. ‘Once we’ve taken a closer look at the data we will have a better idea of how wide-spread the situation is and how it has changed since the last working lives survey in 2017,’ it said.
A whistleblowing policy for judges themselves was unveiled last week, covering the reporting of wrongdoing ‘reasonably believed to be in the public interest’. This includes criminal offences or breaches of legal obligations.
Personal conduct is not covered by the policy ‘unless amounting to wrongdoing that is reasonably believed to be in the public interest’. Judicial grievance policies cover formal and informal processes for raising concerns relating to harassment, bullying or discrimination.
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