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Top QC reveals how she overcame insane 1980s sexual harassment

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State school-educated family law barrister also slammed legal education costs in eye-opening speech

Jo Delahunty QC has given a very personal account of her journey to the top of the bar in a lecture delivered at Gresham College on equality and aimed at encouraging those already in the profession to help those trying to access it.

In the lecture, Delahunty, who was brought up by a single mum and educated in the state sector, talked openly about her choice of the bar — reasons which, in fact, both female and male aspiring barristers will recognise. She said:

I was, quite simply, unemployable. I wanted to control my work load, what I did, when I did it, how I did it. I did not want a 9-5 job and had never easily accepted instruction on what to do. … I thrived on competition, I was a deadline junkie, I was an independent worker, I wanted to make a difference to my world.

Despite this being a lecture on equality for women lawyers, Delahunty’s arguments focused as much on class and the financial barriers faced by barristers, male and female. The QC stated:

.. the central issue of concern that I see as a barrier to entering my profession [is] the cost and risk. … Students simply can’t afford to run the financial risk of entering a self-employed, financially precarious, profession when they have racked up so much university student debt.

The 4 Paper Buildings barrister was, however, incredibly frank about her experiences of sexual harassment and sexism. She explained:

Like many women entering my profession in the late 1980s, I suffered sexual harassment and didn’t make a formal complaint: booked into a double hotel room when working out of London with my pupil supervisor without my knowledge or consent (I didn’t enter), groping, propositions.

She lifted the lid on what happened in a client conference in chambers:

..when chair space was limited in one conference a client offered me his knee to me to sit on and the only reaction was laughter within the room, including from my pupil supervisor.

Though one might have expected these types of anecdotes of events in the 1980s, Delahunty’s experiences appear to indicate that times have not changed as much as one might have hoped. Here is her final anecdote from, incredibly, 2011 after she became a recorder:

Shortly after being made a Bencher, I entered The Princes Room in Middle Temple and, dressed as I was dressed in a white shirt and black skirt, was asked by a rather elderly gentlemen when he might expect his tea. I had been mistaken for a member of staff.

Delahunty, who alongside practising is professor of law at Gresham College, touched on a number of key themes in her lecture including admission rates, retention at the bar, career progression, judicial appointments before highlighting the need for mentoring which the QC sees as “a responsibility as well as a privilege.”

Read the speech in full

Jo Delahunty QC Gresham College speech

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30 Comments

Trumpenkrieg

I can think of 1,001 better ways to spend an evening than having a left wing millionaire lecture me about sexual harassment

(29)(25)

Anonymous

Who are you Trumpenkrieg?

(3)(2)

Trumpenkrieg

Your mum.

(7)(3)

Anonymous

E.g?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Having a wank.

(1)(0)

Trumpenkrieg

Whilst thinking about your mum.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

The 2011 tea anecdote is risible. Get some effing perspective.

(19)(1)

Anonymous

Yes, since this woman’s stock in trade is virtue signalling, surely she should realise it’s a reprehensible classist anecdote: the sub-text is “I’m now much grander than a tea lady”. An old-school aristocrat would have found the incident rather amusing.

(16)(3)

Trumpenkrieg

That’s true. The English have lost the ability to laugh at themselves. All utterances and interactions must be interpreted with rigid literalism.

(6)(2)

TFG

Agreeing with your own posts again to make it seem like there’s a body of people who are like of mind ?

You really are something of a sad act twat aren’t you…

(0)(3)

Trumpenkrieg

You have not one shred of evidence to support that claim

(0)(0)

TFG

You have not one shred of dignity to be able to refute that there is any evidence to support that claim.

Loooooosahh

(1)(1)

Anonymous

How extremely snobbish of her thinking that being a server is beneath her class and position in society

(10)(0)

Anonymous

BOTTY!!!!

(1)(1)

Anonymous

It never ceases to amaze me that people are shocked to hear such stories. I spent 15 years at the commercial chancery bar and I can safely say it is the most ridiculous set up ever. A pack of white middle to upper class males all thinking they are better than what they are and all trying to slime-ball their way up a greasy pole. I too am white, male and middle class but even I thought the vast majority of them ludicrous.

(9)(7)

Anonymous

Barristers … bad clothes, bad hair, bad skin, bad manners and bad breath.

(9)(6)

Not Amused

If she has genuine allegations to make then they should be made and investigated and properly punished. This culture of vague hints and suggestions profits no one – least of all young women who are considering a career at the Bar.

Victims who are far more vulnerable take far more courageous steps every day.

(14)(8)

Anonymous

NA this is where you are completely out of touch – I know plenty of young women today who have experienced inappropriate behaviour, none will complain because we know it will affect our careers. That’s unfortunately the way it is.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

It’s not only a gender issue at the bar, there is an overt elitism at the bar (particularly the commercial bar) which is on the whole prejudiced against people of different ethnic backgrounds, people of different sexual orientation and gender identification.

(5)(2)

Non- temple barrister

Of course it is elitist.

You don’t think some Russian Oligarch is going to pay £500k for counsel from the flipping Temple do you?

No. They will go to Lincoln’s Inn because that is where the Elite go. My Chambers will take the best. Double first/BCL. If you have those grades, a top 10 set is going to pick you up regardless of race/disability etc. etc.

(1)(14)

Anonymous

Russian oligarchs might go to Lincolns inn but they rarely end up paying their counsel. Those however that use Temple barristers (think abramovich/sumption) tend to pay💰

(6)(0)

Anon

Yes…multi-millionaires never go to Fountain Court, Blackstone or Brick Court. That is why they are such failing organisations.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Proves though what twats most Lincoln’s Inn barristers are and how they think they are better than what they really are. Can anyone name one magic circle set in Lincoln’s Inn?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

I wonder if you have the balls to name your chambers that pick the best of the best and receive 500k instructions from Russian Oligarchs?

(3)(0)

Anonymous

your mother is enjoying my balls at the moment. When I get them back, I’ll be sure to let you know Templar 😜

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Yeah, she would have to use the Hubble telescope to find them, failed chancery hack …

(2)(0)

Anonymous

She’s a QC, you’re not. Are you going to cry about it ?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Everyone has a story. Race. Sex. Class. Mental health. Disability. Broken family. Bullying. Harassment. This is just what it is to be in the world. Get over it.

(10)(6)

Anonymous

Typical. Get over it until you are found in a compromising position or have some tragedy/unfortunate incident befell you, then its tears for the ages and an incessant seeking of understanding from all and sundry.

Typical myopic self-centred behaviour I feel for people like you, because it never ends well… ever

(0)(3)

Anonymous

“…as I was dressed in a white shirt and black skirt, was asked by a rather elderly gentlemen when he might expect his tea. ”

This sounds like a “You shoulda gone to Specsavers” moment! #rudegentleman

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.