Comment

The Judge Rules: Chambers have a niggling problem with sexual harassment

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Bar authorities have done well with recent £4,000 fine, but the hearing process needs to be more open

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Only the most unreconstructed, crusty male dinosaur would argue that sexual harassment in the legal profession — or anywhere else, for that matter — is remotely acceptable.

Thankfully, the days of bottom pinching peppered with lascivious remarks and the strained invocation of winking innuendo have been consigned to the misty-eyed memories of dying generations.

Or at least that is the case, for the most part, at law firms. The bar, on the other hand, is arguably a different environment all together, one where the brontosaurus and the tyrannosaurus still roam freely.

Graphically highlighting that difference were reports of a bar disciplinary tribunal hearing involving a pupil master at 1 Gray’s Inn Square. David Giles — a 27-year-call civil law senior junior — was slapped with a £4,000 fine for engaging in “conduct of a sexual nature towards his pupil, which was wholly inappropriate”.

Bar authorities should be commended for taking the allegations seriously, investigating them and then handing down a significant financial penalty when they were proved to have merit. But could the Bar Standards Board do more?

Yes. Its tribunal should have heard the case in public to demonstrate that the profession is not the old boy’s network it once was.

Conducting the disciplinary hearing in private may have spared the blushes of all the parties — including the innocent complainant — but the process smacks of a cosy club sorting its dirty linen behind closed doors.

Pupil barristers must be reassured that their concerns will be given a fair hearing; those in the dock, as it were, also need to be reassured of the fairness of the process. But barristers generally need to be put on notice that the disinfectant of daylight will be used to flush out poor behaviour.

And bar scuttlebutt suggests a good scrubbing might be required. Some claim that harassment is a far greater and persistent problem in that branch of the legal profession than on the solicitor side.

That stands to reason. Law firms are much bigger operations, with partnerships employing large numbers of staff. That includes sophisticated personnel (oh, all right, human resources) departments that are well briefed on the law and experienced in implementing proper modern working practices.

In contrast, while the chambers structure has advanced in the last 15 years, it still involves a grouping of self-employed practitioners. The creation and enforcement of acceptable modern office behaviours can, in some chambers, be the responsibility of absolutely no-one.

In theory, protections are in place. Chambers tend to use management companies to employ clerks and other staff, as well as pupils.

That means legislation kicks in. Section 47 of the Equality Act 2010 specifically refers to the bar, stipulating that barristers must not harass pupils. And harassment under that legislation is in part defined as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature”.

Human interactions can be difficult and messy. It is impossible to impose an absolute behavioural template — and even if it were possible, doing so would surely take all the fun out of life.

However, lines must be drawn. Cracking into the legal profession — and especially the bar — is difficult enough for young aspirants. They do not need the added difficulty of having to weather the unwanted sexual advances of senior lawyers, fearing that if they make a fuss, the first step on the career ladder they have just negotiated could be snatched from them.

Bar officialdom has done well to deal with this latest matter. In the future, it needs to deal with it in a more public forum.

Previously:

1 Gray’s Inn Square silent after barrister fined for inappropriate sexual conduct towards pupil [Legal Cheek]

17 Comments

Not Amused

No. You are being self serving and, not a little dishonest.

“Thankfully, the days of bottom pinching peppered with lascivious remarks and the strained invocation of winking innuendo have been consigned to the misty-eyed memories of dying generations”

Those days never existed. Go on. Prove that they did. Show me specific reports which ever highlighted such behaviour as routine for the Bar. You can’t because it wasn’t. Look I love a good Carry On film – but no one, absolutely no one, who would accept that such horrible sexual abuse occurred in England in the 50s to 80s would ever suggest that it was happening at the Bar.

Yes it was happening in the country at large. But the Bar is and was better than that. Tom Denning was not chasing young girls around his desk to a catchy tune. So stop lazily pretending he was.

So what do you have? You have 1 report of sexual harassment at the Bar. I see. I personally think that 1 is too many. But do you know what 1 isn’t? 1 is not a lot. 1 is not a culture. 1 is not an endemic problem, nor a cause for some manufactured hysterical outcry. I expect that in the last 10 years the number may well be higher than 1 (it may not be). But fundamentally your case is that this is a big problem – you just haven’t got the evidence to make your case.

So why do I also add self serving? Well … who would most love a salacious report detailing various sexual activities? Who would write the prurient articles that set it all out in detail? Who would rub their hands in glee at the increased website traffic and simultaneously adopt a po-faced judgemental position? Who ignores the far greater (and demonstrable) problem of sexual harassment in the media by casting aspersions at the Bar?

The BSB has, without question in my mind, denied journalists the details they crave in order to protect the young person in question. I fully support that decision. She’s already a victim – I simply will not countenance her suffering further.

(29)(11)

DC

Hear hear. Don’t make me write another poem about you, Mr Hack.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

A detailed reply within 22 minutes of the feature appearing? You either have no practice or (more likely) are a Judge John Hack/Legal Cheek sock puppet. This whole ‘Not Amused makes the first comment and says something designed to foster debate’ scenario, played out daily, is formulaic, transparent and more than a little tedious.

(24)(4)

Anonymous

I recall a tale at Lincoln’s inn at a public speech where everybody chuckled about an old treasurer being caught frolicking in the fields with a young lady and received a small fine.

God I miss those days…

(8)(3)

A. Barrister

(In danger of agreeing with NA)

You don’t even have a report of sexual harassment, its merely a report of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards a pupil – I.e. any sexual behaviour. Harrasment, if proven would have lead to far more than a 4k fine from a 5 person panel.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

This whole website and its clearly manufactured debates are becoming highly tedious.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

Is this a troll post attempting to spark debate about how manufactured Legal Cheek is? You’re a Legal Cheek staffer and I claim my £5.

(2)(0)

Let's get things straight

Bottom pinching, breast grabbing, whatever it might be: if it is non consensual, it it not ok. Abuse of position of trust is not ok either, but they’re not the same thing.

It is not helpful, nor is it responsible journalism, to conflate the two.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

To be honest I do not see what they are complaining about I suppose it’s fine when they are using their feminine wilds to get pupiliage and I’ve seen this go on many times you only have to look at most of the female pupils to know I speak the truth fact…

(4)(13)

MrShineHimDiamond

Apart from anything else, it’s ‘wiles’

(1)(0)

Anonymous

As a female who has been groped and propositioned by male barristers, including ‘sit on my knee and read Archbold’… Sexual harassment is rife at the bar

(10)(7)

Anonymous

I forgot to add ‘at least in my experience’.

(2)(2)

Junior tenant

Me too. What world are you people commenting above living in? The criminal bar’s full of it – I’ve been touched up/propositioned by crusty old barristers/judges numerous times and without any hint I would welcome it – they just have a go. And I’m not particularly attractive.

(4)(2)

T

The conduct was “of a sexual nature towards his pupil” and “inappropriate”. There is no suggestion of harassment. Or any suggestion that it was not consensual. Sexual conduct with a pupil is probably always inappropriate, and even if it wasn’t – one can understand the logic of an absolute rule. But it’s a bit much to be suggesting that the supervisor has been harassing anyone. Rumours abound as to what was actually going on- and it’s not proper to repeat them. But there’s no evidence that the supervisor was doing anything worse than being an idiot given the position he was in – and it’s not right to read into the BSB’s finding things that weren’t found.

(4)(0)

Sir Viv

Not having HR sticking their noses in is one of the best bits of the Bar.

(6)(2)

fuark

Jeez, what’s so bad about a couple of lads getting tugjobs, blowies or slaying some quality legal puss? Feminists these days…

(6)(7)

Anonymous

Troll

(0)(0)

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