The Bar Standards Board (BSB) needs to highlight the link between online misogyny and female barristers who speak out on issues affecting women in the law, a campaigning group has argued.
Behind the Gown said male barristers had to be made aware of the issue.
The group was set up in 2018 by barristers committed to tackling harassment at the Bar, in the wake of the MeToo movement.
It was responding to the BSB’s consultation on interim social media guidance, which aims to give “greater recognition to a barrister’s right to freedom of expression” while warning that this has to be balanced against the rights of others.
The group noted occasions when female barristers have received “what can only be characterised as a misogynistic backlash online after expressing views on issues affecting women in the law”, such as when tweeting about the experiences of complainants in sexual assault cases.
“While debate is to be encouraged, rather than engaging with the issue, some tweets from practising barristers discredited the writer’s expertise, requested an apology, or implied the writer needed mental help.
“Others failed to mention the writer by name or truncated the writer’s title giving the impression of disparagement.”
Male lawyers “who unapologetically express their views on the law or current affairs” did not attract a similar response, Behind the Gown said.
It went on: “All women barristers, if they wish, should feel able to fearlessly speak out about the gendered nature of the law.
“This is not just because it is a human rights issue – but also because debates risk becoming one-sided, and communities polarised, if opposing views are shut down in a derisory manner.”
This also risked alienating the public as well as barristers and future barristers “who may share and fear expressing similar ideas”.
Behind the Gown continued: “In what remains a male-dominated profession, it is, we consider, vital that women feel able to challenge a status quo and speak out on issues affecting women without experiencing online abuse.
“We believe the BSB has a duty to ensure that female barristers do not experience harassment and bullying on social media, as this forms an extension of the abuse experienced by women offline in the legal profession.
“We invite the regulator to highlight the link between online misogyny and women who speak out on issues such as those identified above, so that members of the profession with an online presence are, at the very least, cognisant of the problem.
“Further, that explicitly including the issue in the guidance may provide pause for thought as to the motive and impact of any online response before it is made.”