30% of barristers have faced bullying, harassment and discrimination

Sweeting: Making the Bar more accessible

Nearly one in three barristers have personal experience of bullying, harassment and/or discrimination (BHD) in the past two years, Bar Council research has revealed.

Judges were frequently cited as the source of bullying, which will intensify recent focus on poor judicial conduct.

The Barristers’ Working Lives survey, conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies, received 3,479 responses. It is the fourth such survey carried out by the Bar Council, following those in 2011, 2013 and 2017.

The figure of 30% experiencing BHD compared to 21% in 2017 and 13% in 2013. A further 8% had witnessed it.

The questions in the current survey mentioned online BHD as a separate category from experiences in person, and the researchers said some respondents “may have considered negative experiences online as bullying or discrimination in the current survey who would not have considered it in the previous survey”.

But they said the increase over the past four years was “so large that it is unlikely to be due solely to changes in the wording of the question”.

For the first time, self-employed barristers in chambers were just as likely as employed barristers to report personal experiences (29% each); sole practitioners and those working as both employed and self-employed reported higher levels of bullying and harassment (37% and 44% respectively).

Three in ten female barristers have experienced bullying and harassment at work in person compared with 11% of male barristers, and three times as many female barristers have suffered discrimination (21%, compared with 7% of male barristers).

Some 43% of female barristers have experienced BHD online, compared to 17% of men.

More than a half (53%) of all barristers with Black/Black British, African and Caribbean backgrounds reported personally facing BHD while working at the Bar. The figures for Asian/Asian British, mixed origin and White respondents were 47%, 46% and 26% respectively.

Barristers in criminal and family practice were more likely to have experienced BHD (37% and 36% respectively) – it rose to 54% of female barristers in criminal practice.

Even in the area with the lowest incidence, personal injury/professional negligence, it was reported by one in five barristers.

This all meant that female barristers from non-White backgrounds were four times as likely to face BHD as White male barristers (58% v 15%). The figures rose to nearly two-thirds of female barristers from Black and Mixed backgrounds.

Nearly half (45%) of barristers who reported they have a long-term disability faced BHD, compared with 27% of those with no disability

When asked what the BHD related to, gender was the most common response (43%), while race and age were also frequently mentioned (20% each). These were followed by social class (12%) and sexual harassment (10%)

Other barristers (48%) and judges (45%) were most cited as the individuals responsible for the BHD. Within criminal practice, bullying was most likely to come from a judge (62%).

Judges were also particularly cited by family barristers (48%) and professional negligence/personal injury (42%).

Six in ten (62%) barristers in the Young Bar who have faced bullying/discrimination mention another barrister as the source, while barristers whose income was less than £90,000 were more likely to cite judges, but the report said “this is likely to be more a function of area of practice and experience”.

Victims were far more likely to report BHD to another barrister or their chambers/employer than the Bar Standards Board or the Bar Council’s Talk to Spot app, “and led to more satisfactory outcomes”, the research found.

Unsurprisingly, suffering BHD was “associated with lower wellbeing”, but observing it had an impact too.

Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “Work has already begun in the last year or so to tackle the issue of bullying, harassment and discrimination at the Bar, and we are making the Bar a more accessible profession in terms of its working practices. The Bar Council’s Modernising the Bar programme lies at the heart of this effort.”

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