The Bar Council chair has denied that he sought to belittle sexist behaviour at the bar after the barrister at the centre of a workplace sexism storm accused him of failing to condemn inappropriate behaviour.
The intervention is the latest episode in a row over gender equality in the legal profession reignited by comments made by Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption.
In an interview last week he warned that a rush to increase diversity at the top of the judiciary could have ‘appalling consequences’ for justice.
His remarks provoked an angry response from Charlotte Proudman, who sparked a national debate earlier this month when she published a LinkedIn message sent to her by a solicitor. She accused Sumption of seeking to defend the ‘old boys’’ network at the bar.
In a letter to the Guardian today, Alistair MacDonald QC (pictured) praised Proudman for highlighting the challenges many women in the legal profession continue to face, but took issue with her suggestion that he had described sexist behaviour as ‘banter’ in a recent Bar Council report on the experience of women at the bar.
Writing last week in the Guardian, Proudman said that the failure to acknowledge the nature of sexism acts to ‘cement and seal women’s subordinate position in the law’.
MacDonald said that the suggestion he was failing to acknowledge sexist behaviour ‘is simply and plainly wrong’.
He said: ‘While the term “banter” appears in the body of the report itself, nowhere do I, nor would I ever, use such a term to belittle inappropriate behaviour.
‘Claims such as this misrepresent the true position and detract from the important work of those proactively tackling the challenges faced by many women at the bar and in the wider legal profession.’
MacDonald said the Bar Council has a long-term commitment to supporting women at the bar, and pointed to initiatives it has launched to support women, such as the bar nursery and a mentoring scheme for applying for QC and judicial appointments.