Complaints about barristers’ social media behaviour on the rise

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By Thomas Connelly on

But many are dismissed as free speech

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has revealed it’s dealing with more and more complaints about how barristers are conducting themselves on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The BSB, as part of its annual enforcement report, described the online conduct of barristers as a “live and very pertinent issue” which has attracted an “increasing number” of complaints. However the findings, published yesterday, noted that many of the complaints are subsequently dismissed as being legitimate expressions of opinion. The report continued:

Even though the comments may be offensive to some, or indeed many, as a regulator we need to balance our regulatory reach with barristers’ rights to express their views.

Keen to highlight that the regulator isn’t afraid to take action when a barrister has overstepped the mark, the BSB disciplinary dossier refers to the case of unregistered barrister Ian Millard (though it does not directly name him). Millard — who last held a practising certificate in 2007 — was booted out of the profession in 2016 after posting a number of “seriously offensive” tweets, some of which were anti-Semitic.

The actions of Millard prompted the BSB to issue fresh guidance on how barristers should conduct themselves online. After advising members of the bar to refrain from posting comments that are “designed to demean or insult”, the regulator said:

It is also advisable to avoid getting drawn into heated debates or arguments. Such behaviour could compromise the requirements for barristers to act with honesty and integrity and not to unlawfully discriminate against any person.

Elsewhere, the stats show the BSB received 110 reports of serious misconduct over the past year (1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017), a rise of 38% on the previous year’s figure of 80. However, just a little over half (53%) of these grievances resulted in a formal complaint being raised. The regulator also noted that there had been a “significant rise” in disbarments, with 19 being removed this year compared to seven the year before.

Read the Bar Standards Board report in full here:

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