Bar Council and judiciary to take action on bullying from the bench

Sweeting: Rare but real problem

The Bar Council recently met with the senior judiciary in a bid to ensure there are proper consequences for judges who bully barristers.

Bar Council chair Derek Sweeting said incidences of bullying were “rare but real” and dismissed any suggestion that young barristers were being ‘snowflakes’.

In 2019, the Bar Council produced guidance for barristers on judicial bullying and subsequently launched its online confidential reporting tool, Talk to Spot.

“But the challenge I’ve heard from barristers is that while reporting this kind of unacceptable behaviour by judges is all well and good, it doesn’t result in any change or repercussions for the judges involved,” Mr Sweeting said.

“We were encouraged by the fact that the judiciary recently invited us to discuss the issue of judicial bullying, an invitation we have taken up…

“We are now working closely with the judiciary on this matter acting as the voice of the profession to collaborate on how we deal with the issue in the long-term.

“The Bar Council is doing its part, alongside the senior judiciary, to ensure there is a collective commitment to deal with bullying in all its forms.”

Writing for Counsel magazine, he drew a distinction between “grumpiness or annoyance when a barrister falls below the standard of advocacy expected of them” on the one hand and “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure” on the other.

The latter was bullying and applied to “only a very small number, but the impact such behaviour causes can, of course, be severe”.

Mr Sweeting said there was “a high degree of judicial tolerance” for errors, particularly on the part of younger barristers, as well as varying standards of performance in court.

But there were also judges widely known “in coded language to be ‘difficult’”.

However, he said it was no longer that case that such behaviour “has to be put up with as a rite of passage or because it is part of a character-building process of becoming a tougher advocate”.

The “relative anonymity” of social media had brought the problem into the open and the Bar had to challenge any notion that it did not have a zero-tolerance approach.

Mr Sweeting said: “I should add that there is no evidence, in my view, that young barristers have ‘snowflake’ tendencies or are unduly sensitive.

“They face many challenges, financial, academic and professional, which were unknown to previous generations.”

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