Lincoln’s Inn looks to tackle “unacceptable” bullying and harassment

LIncoln’s Inn: Action plan in place

One in eight members of Lincoln’s Inn have experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or discrimination in using a service or event organised by the inn.

The historic body has put in place an interim action plan to address the issue, including diversity and inclusion training and an anonymised reporting mechanism.

The most common form or non-inclusive behaviour was related to race, mentioned by 35% of those who had experienced or witnessed such behaviours, followed by gender (27%), sexual harassment (19%) and age (11%).

The inn commissioned the Institute of Employment Studies to survey members so as to ascertain their demographics and the instances of unacceptable behaviour, specifically whilst using a service provided by the inn, or attending an event or other occasion organised by it, in the previous five years. Some 1,154 members responded.

Approaching a quarter (22%) of those from ethnic minority backgrounds had experienced or witnessed such behaviours (10% of white members), as had 16% of women (compared to 9% of men) and 20% of those with a disability.

This figure was even higher (36%) among those who day-to-day activities were limited a lot by a disability.

One in four (24%) members who reported that their sexual orientation was something other than heterosexual/straight had experienced or witnessed non-inclusive behaviours, as had 19% of those who gave their religion as something other than Christian (compared with 9% for Christians and 10% for those with no religion).

A third of people said the behaviour had occurred once, 58% more than once “but occasionally”, and 8% frequently – members with a disability, and female members, were more likely to say it had occurred more than once.

Incidents of non-inclusive behaviour were most commonly reported occurring at education events (39%), 27% at social events, and 9% while using the inn’s services or facilities.

Around half said they took some action as a result – whether talking to a colleague, the person responsible or recipient, but only a quarter reported it to the inn – but respondents aged 35 and under were much less likely to have taken any action (27% compared with 58% of older respondents).

The research highlighted the emotional impact of experiencing or witnessing this conduct, with 39% saying it also had a negative impact on their relationship with the inn.

In a joint statement, the Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn, Master of the Rolls Sir Geoffrey Vos, and Chancery Master Karen Shuman, chair of the its equality, diversity and inclusion committee, said: “It is unacceptable that so many of our members have had these kinds of experiences in their interactions at the inn and we need to do more to stamp out this type of behaviour.”

The initial action plan put in place for the next year included establishing a programme of diversity and inclusion training and awareness raising for all benchers and those who volunteer with the inn “to improve inclusive behaviour and equip them with the tools to challenge non-inclusive behaviour”.

The inn will also set up an anonymised reporting mechanism for people to raise concerns, expand its mentoring scheme – with those taking part able to request a mentor for a range of issues, including diversity and inclusion issues as well as careers advice – and introduce a buddy system for new benchers.

Giving the Treasurer’s Lecture last week, Sir Geoffrey – the 516th Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn – talked more generally about the legal profession’s diversity issue, highlighting inclusion as a particular problem.

“Why is it, I might ask rhetorically, that for some years now there has been a fairer gender and ethnic balance entering and starting to practise law, but a less good balance amongst the senior members of the legal profession and amongst KCs?”

He gave two answers: “First, we have done less well in diversity terms at more senior levels because creating an inclusive environment requires us all to make active choices.

“It is no good assuming, as some do, that just because we want a more diverse senior legal community and senior judiciary, we will eventually get one. Without active steps being taken we will not.

“Retaining women and those from less privileged or minority backgrounds in the law comes down in many cases to how welcome and comfortable they are made to feel in their working environment.”

Second, Sir Geoffrey went on, “we need to try to appreciate the reality of power and the imbalance of power in our most hierarchical of hierarchical environments”.

He explained: “To make the environment more inclusive, some of that power has… to be spread around. The power has to some extent to be dissipated. Those without power in the legal sector and the judiciary are frequently women and those from less naturally competitive and privileged backgrounds.

“If the power is dissipated more widely, these groups are more likely to feel empowered to contribute fully to the system of which we wish them to be a functioning and valued part, and to continue equitably on their journey through the hierarchy. The system will benefit from their perspective.”

Sir Geoffrey suggested that those who reach the peak of the professions and the judiciary were, even if diverse themselves, “sometimes unwilling to challenge the structure and governance of the institutions themselves”.

“Some don’t want to accept that the system within which they may have spent 30, 40 or more years is itself in need of attention.”

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