The Bar Council has urged chambers to go beyond the bare minimum in supporting parental leave and hopes its new guide will encourage caring responsibilites to be more fairly divided.
Last year, four in 10 women at the bar with children were primary carers, compared with 15% of fathers at the bar. Research by focus groups highlighted difficulties in balancing family life and a career at the bar and found that chambers' culture and policies affected women's experiences. Chambers are now required to have a policy that allows any member who becomes a carer of a child to take parental leave. Individual chambers decide the precise policy details, but they are required to ensure flexible working arrangements are available.
The Bar Council today published a guide to encourage chambers 'to adopt good and better practice wherever possible instead of the bare minimum'.
The guide states that, as a 'very minimum', the policy should clearly describe who can apply under the policy, any restrictions, whether the tenant will be entitled to a rent-free period, and whether the tenant will be required to contribute other elements of their chambers' rent or expenses.
'Desirable' additional terms include determining what type of contact should be maintained between chambers and the tenant during the leave, how mail should be forwarded, how chambers will address flexible working by tenants outside of formal parental leave, and what a tenant is entitled to if their baby is stillborn or dies shortly after birth. The policy should also extend to pupil members and prospective pupils.
The council recommends that, prior to drafting a policy, chambers should consult members and build support before taking any proposal to the management committee. Chambers should establish how often an existing policy is used, how long parents have taken off and how many have returned either full or part time. 'This can help build the financial case for the policy and dispel some of the myths that can exist regarding the cost to chambers,' the guide states.
The council says it is important to publicise the new policy (PLP) in chambers once it is in place. The guide says: 'Tenants are likely to need access to the PLP at a time that is personally sensitive or confidential, for example, she or her partner are planning on getting pregnant or it is the early stages of their pregnancy. It follows that the PLP should be accessible without needing to request it from another person in chambers.'