A third of Scottish solicitors have been victims of violence or threatening behaviour in connection with their work, according to an “alarmed” Law Society of Scotland.
Measures put forward to combat the problem include smartphone safety apps, personal alarms or a buddy system, particularly for sole practitioners.
The survey of over 1,100 solicitors has revealed that 12% have experienced violence, a third have experienced threatening conduct and over one in four (27%) experienced threatening communications. Only a fifth of physical attacks on solicitors were reported to the police.
The vast majority of incidents took place within solicitors’ offices or in a court or tribunal environment. Clients or former clients of a solicitor, or of the opposing party’s solicitor, accounted for over 60% of violent incidents.
The research, the first of its kind in Scotland, is part of the Law Society of Scotland Journal’s annual employment survey of solicitors.
The results highlighted that – perhaps unsurprisingly – criminal defence solicitors were most at risk, with almost half of those who responded reporting more than four incidents in the last five years. Prosecutors and family lawyers have also been targeted.
In all, almost 40% of criminal defence solicitors, 25% of family lawyers and 19% of prosecutors have been victims of violence, with the figures rising to 70%, 54% and 61% respectively when it came to being victims of threatening behaviour
Society president Alison Atack said: “I am extremely alarmed by the survey findings… It’s vital that solicitors, who have chosen a career in law because they want to help others, can feel safe and secure while carrying out their professional duties.
“There should be no tolerance of any threat of violence towards legal professionals, or indeed anyone providing a service to members of the public, something that has been highlighted recently by the proposed Scottish Parliament bill to protect retail workers.
“We are also aware the Scottish government justice secretary intends to introduce measures to strengthen the rights of victims and witnesses of crime.
“We intend to take forward our initial recommendations, including working with other organisations in the legal sector, as a matter of urgency to try to minimise the risk of violence against people working in the legal sector.”
The Law Society recommendations aim to improve solicitors and other legal professionals’ personal safety and build a ‘no tolerance’ culture across the legal and justice sector to reduce violence and threatening behaviour.
The recommendations include: improved reporting of incidents to the police; adopting a safety-first approach, such as using smartphone safety apps, personal alarms or a buddy system, particularly for sole practitioners; having employers adopt robust policies and procedures to deal with violent or threatening behaviour; specialist training on risk awareness; and support for solicitors who are victims of violence.
The survey also indicated that solicitors’ colleagues, or those representing the opposite party, accounted for a minority of incidents, with approximately one in seven involving violence and a slightly higher proportion involving threats.
Reporting of incidents was low, with women appearing to be less likely than men to make a report. Around 20% of violent incidents were reported to the police while just 12.5% of incidents of threatening behaviour and 14.5% of threatening communications were reported.