Our learned colleagues at the bar are getting in a terrible twist over language. First there was the wording of Bar Standards Board guidance on youth courts. An early draft encouraged barristers to ‘empathise and build trust with’ clients. This prompted a lively debate at the regulator’s board meeting.
Judith Farbey QC of Doughty Street Chambers said she felt ‘very strongly’ about the word empathy. ‘Empathy and understanding are not part of being a barrister,’ she said. ‘I would have great trouble feeling empathy for someone who had daubed a swastika over a building – but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do my best to do my job of representing them.’
Obiter notes that the published version of the guidelines omits the reference to empathy, instead encouraging ‘emotional intelligence’ and plain English.
Another battle may lie ahead. The council seems to have woken up to the fact that the profession’s handbook is somewhat dated in its own language. The board meeting heard that it contains no fewer than 350 uses of the words ‘he’ or ‘his’ and just 40 of ‘she’ or ‘her’. The meeting heard that ‘a number of changes’ are afoot to make the handbook ‘gender neutral’.