The bar representative body has ramped up the controversy over how sexual misconduct allegations against barristers are handled, warning that recent cases ‘are likely to reduce confidence’ in the profession.
In letters to the Bar Standards Board and the bar disciplinary tribunal, the Bar Council said many barristers have commented on apparent inconsistencies in sanctions based on what offence has been committed.
‘For example, a case where a practising barrister was awarded a more severe sentence for failing to renew a practising certificate, compared to another barrister who sexually assaulted two women at a bar related social event,’ Bar Council chair Derek Sweeting QC said.
‘Rather perversely and seemingly not reflective of the seriousness of offences, the practising certificate offence received a four-month suspension as opposed to the sexual assaults receiving a three-month suspension. Whilst we appreciate that individual cases may not be always be comparable, such examples do give the appearance of being out of step and may understandably give rise to public concern.’
The council said it contacted the BSB in 2019 about the handling of harassment cases, and asked for an update on its concerns, including the quality of case worker support available to complainants, the type of training provided to those on disciplinary panels, and the use of victim impact statements.
‘We are disappointed that there are still clearly issues with the investigations and sanctions process in this sensitive area,’ Sweeting said.
The BSB is expected to respond to the Bar Council today.
The BSB is currently investigating six cases of sexual misconduct, and three cases of sexual misconduct have been referred to BTAS over the past year. This figure excludes cases which have been heard by the tribunal in the past 12 months but which were referred to BTAS more than a year ago.
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