Attorney General urges collective action on bullying at Bar

Prentis: We must all be responsible for holding the profession to account

The Attorney General has praised barristers who speak up about bullying and harassment at the Bar but said more than individual reports are needed to tackle the problem.

Victoria Prentis KC, a former lawyer in the Government Legal Department, said she was “saddened” by Bar Council research published in December which described bullying, harassment and discrimination at the Bar as a “systemic” problem.

It reported that 44% of barristers have experienced or witnessed it in the past two years.

Writing for the Bar Council, Ms Prentice acknowledged how the Bar had changed “enormously even since my own call in 1995”.

She continued: “A diverse Bar, drawn from talented people from different backgrounds and with varied experiences, will always deliver better for its clients than a Bar drawn only from a narrow section of society.

“However, the Bar Council’s report shows that the great steps the legal profession has made to increase diversity are not in themselves sufficient to create a Bar where all types of barristers can flourish.

“We must all be responsible for holding the profession to account and creating a more open, supportive culture, which is capable of not only systematically tackling bullying, harassment, and discrimination, but also preventing it.”

She particularly commended “the bravery of those barristers who have reported their experiences. It must have been difficult to do”.

This had allowed the Bar Council to build “a clear picture” of what was going on in the profession.

“Given the excellent work already started by the Bar Council, it is my sincere hope that some of the increase in reporting stems from a better understanding of how the process works as well as higher levels of confidence that there will be consequences for those who behave unacceptably.

“However, meaningful change can only happen if the Bar works together with the wider legal profession, rather than being reliant on individual reports alone.”

Ms Prentice said that, given her role sponsoring the Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office and Government Legal Department, she also felt “a special responsibility” for employed barristers working in these organisations.

“Staffing and wellbeing is an important part of my regular discussions with the heads of these organisations.”

With the Bar Council launching a profession-wide review to identify solutions, saying that the response “cannot be to focus on reporting alone”, Ms Prentice said she was “keen to play an active part in encouraging a healthy, productive workplace for all”.

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