Criminal Bar Association: ‘Horrible culture of shame’ allows judges to bully junior barristers

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By Katie King on

QC tells Legal Cheek some judges see mocking barristers as a sport

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has shockingly claimed there is a “horrible culture of shame” in the legal profession in which some judges and advocates use juniors as “bait”.

Tweeting from its wellbeing-focused account, the CBA said this culture facilitates bullying — something that is perhaps more common at the bar than you might think.

Michelle Heeley QC, a barrister at No5 Chambers, revealed to Legal Cheek that judges bullying barristers, though thankfully not as common as it once was, is still an issue. She said:

[A] few years ago it was a problem with older judges enjoying mocking younger barristers, they saw it as sport as they were bored. There are one or two of that type left and youngsters can still face bullying as some judges view it as a way of toughening youngsters up.

Heeley, a crime specialist, said she’s twice been reduced to tears by judges. Expanding, she told us: “One incident involved a judge who decided he didn’t like my case, mocked it in open court, made it personal against me and then threw the case out.”

While Heeley believes female junior barristers are disproportionately affected by this, they’re not the only sufferers. Lawyer Julian Young revealed on Twitter he once saw a “well-known” judge reduce a male QC to tears, while barrister Steven Kennedy too said he’d “butted heads with judges”.

But what to do about it? Mary Aspinall-Miles, a barrister of almost 20 years call, described rude judges as “the taboo” of wellness at the criminal bar. Criminal defence solicitor Keima Payton said she complained about a “bully” judge who brought a staff member to tears. “You can’t complain about these matters I was advised,” she said. “That is exactly why it happens…”.

The judiciary declined to issue a comment on this, but did point us in the direction of the published Guide to Official Conduct. This says:

The Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals expect all judicial office-holders to treat their colleagues and members of staff decently and with respect. They are committed to ensuring that the environment in which judicial offce-holders and staff work is free from harassment, victimisation and bullying and that everyone is able to work in an atmosphere in which they can develop professionally and use their abilities to their full potential.

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