The chair of the Bar Council has spoken out in support of a feminist barrister who said yesterday that she has complained about abuse from more than 50 “mainly White male” barristers.
Dr Charlotte Proudman of Goldsmith Chambers said “misogynistic online sneering from often senior professional peers has become part of my daily life”.
Styling herself as ‘the feminist barrister’, she specialises in male violence against women and children, acting in several significant cases in the family courts and appearing regularly in the media. She is also the founder of Right to Equality, a group that campaigns to change sexist and discriminatory laws against women.
She took to Twitter yesterday on the publication of an article she wrote in the Bar Council magazine Counsel about her experiences of online abuse.
“I am called egotistical, mentally ill and a dangerous extremist. My physical appearance is attacked, and qualifications dismissed – followed by a mass cry to have me disciplined.
“My peers have written: ‘If you want to be a barrister, stop being a c*nt’. ‘When you’re screaming into the wind on a stormy night, how long does it take for people in white coats to come and escort you back to your padded room?’
“Abusing me is a sport among some of my colleagues, and this signalled to dangerous men that it was acceptable to send me death and rape threats. A man is now being prosecuted for alleged harassment putting me in fear of violence and carrying a knife.”
Dr Proudman said she had sent the Bar Standards Board (BSB) over 150 pages of evidence of “harassment, bullying and abuse by more than 50 (mainly White male) barristers”.
She continued: “Nine months later I have had no substantive response from my regulatory body. Why bother reporting when the regulator seemingly doesn’t care?”
The article said she has experienced “sexism and blatant misogyny” from solicitors as well, quoting a tweet from one that said: “Is she stuck in 1974? Maybe her husband ought to take away her mobile phone & send her back to the kitchen to get his dinner.”
Dr Proudman added that “one hateful parody account of me is followed by KCs, barristers and solicitors”.
She said there have been over 100 complaints about her made to the BSB and her chambers in the last three years.
“Following some barristers’ calls for complaints about me, an incel wearing a frightening mask produced a video last year with a step-by-step guide of how to complain about me to my regulatory body, chambers and the university where I teach…
“The BSB has never acknowledged that these are malicious complaints designed to silence and punish me – nor has it investigated the vexatious complaints from other barristers.”
She argued that there was “a parallel” between the failure of the criminal and family justice system to protect women and children from domestic abuse and the failure of regulatory bodies to protect female lawyers from bullying and harassment.
“If we want meaningful change, the legal establishment needs to change. But first, it is about time that institutions that went after the people abusing women and making vile unfounded complaints – instead of women who bravely put their head above the parapet to highlight gender-based violence and socially embedded misogyny.”
In his statement, Bar Council chair Nick Vineall KC said: “Some of the comments made on Twitter and recorded in Dr Proudman’s article go far, far beyond what could possibly be thought to be acceptable.
“It is not appropriate for the Bar Council to comment on any individual complaints or allegations: those tasks are for the BSB. But the Bar ought to be a profession where everyone is capable of maintaining civil discourse.
“There is absolutely no place at the Bar for misogynistic, sexist, or bullying behaviour, whether online, verbal or in any other form.”
He added that, “whilst we understand that some investigations are complex, we share Dr Proudman’s frustration with the pace with which the BSB has dealt with some complaints”.
Dr Proudman said on Twitter that she was pleased by Mr Vineall’s “important and robust response”.
A BSB spokesman told Legal Futures: “The article in Counsel includes the BSB’s response in which we make clear how seriously we take all cases of bullying, harassment, misogyny and sexism, which are all potential breaches of our code of conduct.
“But that of course means that all such reports have to be carefully assessed by the BSB and when someone sends us over 150 pages of evidence relating to more than 50 different barristers, that assessment inevitably takes time.
“We shall, however, be writing very shortly to Dr Proudman to inform her of our assessment of the evidence which she sent us.”
He added that the regulator was “working hard to eliminate all forms of bullying and harassment at the Bar” and was looking to address the problems of under-reporting.
Dr Proudman first came to prominence in 2015, when she made public a LinkedIn message from a solicitor 30 years her elder calling her photograph “stunning”.
This triggered a huge amount of debate, with one banner on the front page of the Daily Mail, flagging up an article by columnist Sarah Vine, saying: “A glam lawyer and the Feminazis who hate men who praise their looks.”
Another front page banner in the Daily Mail said: “How the Feminazi lawyer ogles men online.” Both banners included pictures of Dr Proudman.
In her Counsel article, she recalled this time: “Of course, I was seen as the problem, not the issue I sought to highlight, and received threatening comments from solicitors that I had committed ‘career suicide’.”