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‘Behind the Gown’: Anonymous Twitter account hopes to expose sexual harassment at the bar

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As an independent review criticises Matrix Chambers’ handling of allegations, according to report

Social media is key to a group of barristers’ aim to tackle “endemic” harassment in the profession, as the saga surrounding one of London’s top human rights chambers experiences a further twist.

Tweeting under @behindthegown, a group of anonymous barristers “committed to fighting harassment at the bar” believe the profession’s culture of patronage and self-governance — plus its gender imbalance and inherent power disparities between seniors and juniors — leave members vulnerable. They think it’s time to start a conversation about this sensitive topic.

Twitter and other social media websites have in recent months been a vital platform for calling out bad behaviour. With the world reeling over the multiple allegations made against media mogul Harvey Weinstein, men and women have shared their experiences using the #metoo hashtag.

Twitter has been pivotal in challenging bad lawyer behaviour, too.

In mid-October, a number of barristers used social media to reveal that they’d been victims of judicial bullying. Michelle Heeley QC, a barrister at No5 Chambers, said she’d twice been reduced to tears by judges. Lucy Reed, a tenant at St John’s Chambers, said her experience of bullying at the bar was “too hard a story to relive” and had left her feeling “paralysed”.

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

Though George Clooney recently revealed Amal Clooney, Doughty Street Chambers’ most famous tenant, had experienced Weinstein-esque situations, a Twitter confessional about sexual harassment in the law hasn’t yet been realised.

With Behind the Gown pushing the topic perhaps it’s just a matter of time, particularly in a climate where accusations against top barristers are making the front pages of nationals.

The Times today reports a new development at Matrix Chambers, whose tenant Ben Emmerson QC was accused of assaulting a woman in a lift. It’s an allegation he “categorically denied” at the time it was made and has continued to deny since.

His set, Matrix Chambers, instructed retired High Court judge Sir David Calvert-Smith to investigate the allegations. Though the contents of Calvert-Smith’s report, from December 2016, were confidential, we do know it concluded “without hesitation” that Emmerson had not committed any act of sexual assault or sexual harassment. The London set — home to 57 juniors and 36 QCs — “accepted Sir David’s findings”.

Far from done and dusted, The Times then later reported Calvert-Smith’s conclusion “caused divisions at Matrix” and that the chambers decided to commission another review.

This independent review, by Dame Laura Cox QC, has not been made public but, again according to the newspaper, has concluded and is apparently far from complimentary of Matrix’s handling of the Emmerson case. The review reportedly said that some of the actions of senior management at the chambers had been “wholly inappropriate” in a harassment case, and that there were “institutional failings” at the Gray’s Inn set.

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65 Comments

Anonymous

Matrix must be sweating over what might come out…

Anonymous

What were matrix thinking? “Oh we’ve received a complaint of sexual harassment, let’s appoint a former DPP and old Etonian to investigate it and report back to us” ?

Anonymous

In many Chambers, if you are a high earner and contribute a lot financially to Chambers’ overheads, you can get away with an awful lot of bad behavior. If it comes to believing the silk that earns a million a year and contributes 200,000 to Chambers’ overheads or the junior that earns 100,000 and contributes 30,000, there’s a powerful incentive for the members in cases that aren’t clear cut to side with the silk as it is not in the members’ financial interests to lose the silk or see his career harmed.

Anonymous

We got rid of a tenant a year or so ago due to unspecified sexual harassment allegations. The details of course weren’t shared amongst members of chambers, but according to the man in question they were also not shared with him until after he was suspended.

Jumped before pushed in the end I think.

Anonymous

Well, nice to see barristers following due process.

Anonymous

Sounds like a conspiracy to cause economic harm on the part of your set’s management.

Anonymous

“Unspecified sexual harassment allegations.” That’s a sound basis for taking suspension measures. I take it your set doesn’t do labour or contract law.

Anonymous

Yeah, audi alteram partem is a pretty basic English law concept, except in family law ….

Anonymous

Just shows harassment is rife at the bar …

Anonymous

It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that sexual harassment means harassing someone for sex. “Unspecified allegations of sexual harrasment” sounds like a bit of a smokescreen.

Anonymous

“Unspecified sexual harassment” that’s a new one. Usually barristers can’t keep their mouths shut if there is anything to gossip about, this sounds like a good old fashioned smear campaign designed by the heads of chambers and management to cover up something deeper about their management. If I were a member of your set I’d be worried about its management and its competence.

Anonymous

All allegations of sexual harassment should be properly investigated and people shouldn’t be allowed to jump before they are pushed, this just means that the man if he has been sexually harassing somebody in your Chambers will sexually harass some other unfortunate woman elsewhere. A very irresponsible approach on the part of your set’s management.

Anonymous

So far this twitter account is a proclamation that there is sexual harassment at the Bar without any examples of what they mean. Just a word of advice, you need examples for credibility.

As a man I have been sexually harassed by a woman in a law firm before, so I don’t intend to belittle what is being claimed.

Anonymous

As a male barrister I have been sexually harassed by a female colleague in chambers who “laid in on a plate” and when rejected starting spreading rumours that I am gay (which I’m not).

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

To complain that someone has started a rumour that you’re gay is homophobic because it implies that being gay is something less desirable than being straight, so you might find that you end up being disciplined yourself if you pursue the complaint.

Libeturd Leftie

I disagree, it amounts to defamation of character. It is something that is untrue and its declaration was intended to cause harm and on its face was false. That this untruth was said to a third party with the intention to cause “harm” is the issue, and the potential ramifications.

Anonymous

It’s also a breach of privacy, the BSB comes down hard on this thing. Like it or not, gay people still face discrimination all the time, especially at the Bar. Starting rumors about a person’s sexuality can only ever be with the intention of causing that person to suffer prejudice and discrimination.

Cecil the Poove

That’s the kind of backwards attitude that perpetuates prejudice against LGBTQ+ people.

Surely it’s only defamation of character if it’s a bad thing that is being alleged…?

Anonymous

Like it or not a lot of people who currently have power and authority at the Bar are of a generation which was brought up to think of homosexuality as a perversion and a crime. Many still do.

Anonymous

Your argument makes no sense whatsoever. Only an idiot silk would lodge a cross-complaint on the basis that your complaint about him spreading rumours that you were homosexual was itself a display of homophobia and therefore you needed to be disciplined. There are a few idiot silks out there and most of us know who they are but I still don’t think any would be as idiotic to run that line of argument. If they did, any sensible tribunal would see right through it in a nanosecond as an intimidatory tactic done to cause further distress to the complainant and to try to put pressure on the complainant to drop his complaint. If anyone faced with a complaint of homophobic harrasment were able to say “your claim against me displays your own homophobia” the protections designed to eradicate homophobia simply would not work and those who suffer homophobic harassment would have no protection at all.

Anonymous

I’m a male barrister too and was pesteree for sex from a senior male silk in Chambers, a senior female barrister in chambers and a male contemporary in Chambers. The situation became intolerable so I left.

Anonymous

Lucky bast@rd. Suppose there are few genuinely good looking barristers so if you’re at least half way decent, you’ll get a lot of attention.

Anonymous

Your flippancy is inappropriate. There is a fundamental point that is being obscured in this debate which is many people of both genders just do not know how to behave with sexual propriety. I often think the bar is a paradigm example of the problem, given its cohort is historically from a rather narrow draw and most have led rather sheltered existences and have had limited exposure to the world outside the inns of Court many have never learned to develop sexually fulfilled lives and therefore seek to use sex as a means of harassing, vilifying and humiliating women and (sometimes) men.

Anonymous

Disappointing that at your Chambers the only two choices were to stay and put up and shut up or walk. Times really haven’t changed much.

Anonymous

Apart from with the rise of ladette culture, some women now consider it appropriate to harass men for sex.

Anonymous

This will end with a generation of men and women who sit apart on separate tables at lunch, afraid to interact with members of the opposite sex lest they lose their jobs. Don’t risk asking out someone for a coffee because it could be interpreted as “unwanted attention.”

Just like Saudi Arabia.

Anonymous

Or just like England 100 years ago!

Trumpenkrieg

You wanted feminism, didn’t you?

Anonymous

Did I?

It does bear uncanny similarities to ‘The Worm that Turned’ sketch by The Two Ronnies.

@nighthawkprof

those of red blood and iron will shall not let this happen

when birth rates decline even farther into the precipice we will be told over loudspeakers to cheer our spirits — and have some wine — it will clear the gaze sweeten the breath and stiffen the frontal member — or whatever jack vance wrote some decades ago

Anonymous

Jones Day partner, anybody?

Anonymous

I have been the subject of vilification by my male head of chambers for outing verbal harassment by another man in chambers ( not sexual). We also had a hearing in chambers conducted by a retired high court judge who found against proponent. Male head of chambers sided with male proponent. Simply couldn’t stay out of it and be neutral. Tried hard to get me to drop the complaint, taunting me that my position would be untenable if I lost. I won. it was hell. Took every ounce of strength.

Anonymous

Good for you. We need more like you.

Anonymous

What happened to the proponent? Nothing presumably?

Anonymous

Left a year later after another incident where the victims were male. Head of Chambers barely speaks to me now – as if all my fault.

Anonymous

Sets a nice tone for Chambers, not

Anonymous

At least he didn’t discriminate in his harassment on the basis of gender

Anonymous

“Verbal harrassment” – can you be more specific? Details matter.

Anonymous

Yeah, I verbally harass my clerks and Chambers management every day by asking them to do their jobs. They hate me for it.

Anonymous

Yeah, being asked to do their job causes many a clerk alarm and distress.

Anonymous

This is the thin edge of the wedge. There will be a lot of senior barristers and chambers management holding crisis meetings this week. More and more of these stories will break. After I left a well known commercial Chancery because of presumed sexual orientation harassment a senior silk there went round spreading (false) rumours about my sexuality. The press is becoming more and more interested in these stories.

Anonymous

Though in a nice twist of fate, the silk has blackened his own name by his courtroom antics before the bench in recent (non-related) hearings.

Anonymous

BLACKENED his name?????

RACIST!!!!!

Not Amused

Sure. Give the vigilantes a gun and let them anonymously shoot people. Nothing can possibly go wrong.

Just another one here to say...

Whilst having lunch during a mini-pupillage a male barrister said to me (a male) from the other side of the table we were sitting at: “I really want a boy to fuck”. This was also in front of a female barrister colleague.

I just looked with a neutral demeanor and didn’t show any sort of emotion. Looking back, I should have poured the drink over his head and told him to “go forth and multiply”.

The arrogance of some people is so shocking. And to think that females have to face suchlike on quite a regular basis is extremely sad to say the least.

Thankfully we are coming to a stage where those “different rules for different people” are becoming public knowledge… Let’s *hope* that prosecutions follow in those cases that call for it…

Anonymous

There’s a lot of messed up people (men and women) at the Bar.

Trumpenkrieg

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Proud member of Nexus Chambers

At my last chambers the senior clerk would do the following: comment upon the watermelon smile of a female barrister, ask why she complained of the heat because surely she would be used to it ( she was of African descent but British born ) and hang up the knickers of the only female barrister who would cycle into chambers before going to court. It was mysogynistic and racist and rotten from the top down. My current set by contrast is amazing. The senior clerk there is a socialist feminist…! I query the socialism but he believes very strongly in treating people properly and the Bar should be rightly proud that people like him lead from the top down.

Anonymous

These stories and their frequency are becoming more and more concerning. At my former set, paedeophilia and homosexuality were equated with each other, on the basis that “they just can’t help themselves”.

Anonymous

I’m still amazed at how many older barristers (70s/80s call) are very forgiving on the issue of paedophilia and seem to take the view that schoolgirls were once “fair game”, “looking for older men in cinemas” and “know full well what they’re getting themselves into”.

There are some real dinosaurs out there who need a spot of re-education.

Anonymous

Or culling …

Anonymous

The world is not reeling from the Weinstein stuff; the world does not give a stuff. It just confirms what the dogs in the street have always known: Hollywood is a moral cesspit and always has been.

Anonymous

The Bar, the Hollywood for the troubled types that lack the good looks and charisma to make it in Hollywood or Pinewood.

Anonymous

In a way the Bar is worse, at the Bar people who know and are educated better and profess to behave better abuse their authority, power and respect not for outright sexual gratification but to control and humiliate, in Hollywood it’s randy guys getting their end off.

Anonymous

When I was a pupil a then senior silk criticised a fellow female pupil openly at chambers tea for wearing a white bra under a black jumper. He said it would have been fine if she had worn a black bra under a white jumper. The men in the room all laughed

Anonymous

How do these people ever make it as far as they do? The whole silk appointment process is a joke.

Elderly Silk

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

Of course they did, they were trying to get led work, there’s nothing so oleaginous as a male barrister.

Anonymous

At my set one of the junior tenants twenty odd years ago was taken aside and spoken to about her “personal hygiene” and improving it, twenty odd years later people are still talking about it behind her back.

Anonymous

Always nice to see the illiberal Left eating itself.

Anonymous

Wonderful to see this. About time.

Anonymous

When I as a junior complained about harassment by a silk, I was told by the Head of Chambers it would “toughen” me up.

Anonymous

Quite right too!

I found a witch

Witch hunt. Witch hunt. Witch hunt

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