The Bar Council is ‘working closely’ with the judiciary to address bullying in court, following complaints that judges who behave unacceptably face no repercussions.
Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, said judicial bullying is ‘rare but real’, and dismissed the suggestion that young barristers have ‘snowflake’ tendencies. ‘Making the bar accessible and appealing to a wider pool of talent must include challenging any image of the profession as one that exposes its members to bullying and harassment, or does not take a zero tolerance policy to such incidents.’
He added that while incidents of bullying can be reported through various channels, barristers feel that complaints do not result in any change or repercussions for the judges involved.
However, Sweeting stressed that bullying is not ‘grumpiness or annoyance’ when a barrister falls below the expected standard. ‘Some of the complaints which have reached me are, I suspect, instances of judges simply doing their job in protecting witnesses from improper questioning or reminding counsel of the need, for example, to make allegations of dishonesty only upon a proper foundation. Others are no more than the rejection of arguments.’
The Bar Council recently met with the judiciary to discuss the issue, he said. ‘We are now working closely with the judiciary on this matter, acting as the voice of the profession to collaborate on how we deal with the issue in the long-term.’
Last 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.