New guidance on barristers’ conduct in non-professional life and on social media came into force on Wednesday, with the Bar Council praising the balance it has struck.
As first reported on Legal Futures last month, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) said the guidance aims to clarify its regulatory remit, not expand it.
The guidance says the BSB “is more likely to have a regulatory interest in social media use where the manner in which you express yourself is inconsistent with your obligations under the BSB Handbook”.
It continues: “We are less likely to have an interest in the substance of the views that you hold (however unpopular they may be).
“However, there may be cases where the views or opinions that you express may mean that regulatory action is justifiable, for example, where you post material online which is dishonest or discriminatory.”
While adding a case study which seeks to tackle gendered bullying on social media, the BSB decided to drop a proposed case study concerning gender-critical views, which some consultees had criticised, saying this was not an area where that lent itself to guidance “based on generalities”.
However, the regulator stressed that this did not mean it would “never be interested in barristers’ conduct involving the gender debate, the expression of philosophical beliefs, or deliberately misgendering a transgender person”.
BSB director general Mark Neale said: “These revised guidance documents provide greater clarity rather than indicating a significant change to our approach.
“The documents explain more clearly how we will apply the existing rules and how we try to balance barristers’ obligations under the BSB Handbook with their rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.”
Bar Council chair Nick Vineall KC said: “As we know from our own ethical enquiries service, issues relating to social media and barristers’ private lives can be difficult to navigate.
“We think that the BSB has struck the appropriate balance, and it is right that the regulator focuses on the use of language that is seriously offensive, discriminatory, bullying or harassing. There is absolutely no place for bullying or discrimination, online or offline, at the Bar.”
Mr Vineall said the Bar ought to be a profession where everyone was capable of “maintaining civil discourse”.
“Regardless of where the line is drawn in terms of professional misconduct, there will be a huge space where comment that does not amount to misconduct is nevertheless unkind, unnecessary, and profoundly undesirable.
“Ultimately, if you would not say something to someone’s face, don’t say it to them, or about them, on social media.”
Mr Vineall has recently spoken out in support of high-profile barrister Dr Charlotte Proudman after she described the abuse she has suffered and warned that the number of ‘pile-ons’ on legal Twitter was “getting out of hand”.