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BSB to barristers: avoid getting drawn into ‘heated’ social media spats

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Regulator’s fresh guidance covers content posted in both a ‘professional and personal capacity’

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has warned barristers they could be hauled before a disciplinary tribunal if they engage in “heated debates or arguments” on social media.

In fresh guidance, the bar’s regulator said it acknowledged barristers may wish to use platforms including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, for a variety of private and professional reasons, but that comments designed to “demean or insult are likely to diminish public trust and confidence in the profession”.

Poor behaviour on social media, the BSB says, could compromise the requirements for barristers to “act with honesty and integrity” and “not to unlawfully discriminate against any person”. Even posts that barristers consider to be in “good taste” may be considered distasteful or offensive by others, the guidance warns.

The new online pointers apply in both a “professional and personal capacity”, the regulator stresses, “since the inherently public nature of the internet means that anything you publish online may be read by anyone and could be linked back to your status as a barrister”.

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Elsewhere, it asks members of the bar to consider less obvious dangers such as disclosing their whereabouts via social media — perhaps via a ‘geotagged’ status update — which may “risk inadvertently revealing that you act for a particular client”.

The guidance, which applies to both registered and unregistered barristers, follows a string of examples where barristers — in the eyes of the regulator — have overstepped the mark online.

In 2016, a barrister was removed from the profession after posting a number of what the BSB described were “seriously offensive” tweets, some of which were anti-Semitic. More recently, another barrister who again sent a “seriously offensive” tweet to the Twitter accounts of Cambridge University and the Cambridge University Student Union Women’s Officer was reprimanded and fined £1,000.

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34 Comments

Ian

someone tweet this to Jo Maugham

Anonymous

It’s a jolly holiday with Jolyon, getting into Twitter spats

Thinks he’s the king of arguing, really just one more of the Twitter twats

Hooner

But feel free to send cocaine to your chambers and/or engage in chemsex rituals while moonlighting as a dealer

Anonymous

As long as the process isn’t used to tell tales or try to get people into trouble for expressing an opinion or because someone is losing an argument.

Anon

That’s more of the SRA’s cup of tea it would seem.

Not the BSB

Do you think this might be about the barristers who, idk, have actually been suspended or rebuked for the social media use? Maugham might wind you up a bit (if you’re a snowflake) but organising a handful of major wins including two Supreme Court cases is hardly going to bring the profession into disrepute, and neither is his twitter use.

Jolly Benedictus

LOL! Major wins?! More like double figures losses, and a couple of pointless pyrrhic victories he’s managed to tag along with. The man is an absolute joke, and a genuine disgrace to the profession.

Silent Majority

I wish the BSB reflected more on how deeply illiberal this all is (or could be). Not “diminish[ing] public trust and confidence in the profession” is precisely the sort of vague, undefined rule that has no place in limiting the free speech rights of barristers. They should be held to the same free speech rules as everyone else, without a regulator hovering in the background ready to hand out punishments for alleged infractions of ill-defined ‘principles’.

Anon

…unless you’re espousing the ‘correct’ oppinion of course.

Anon

Is a barrister writing for LC “likely to diminish public trust and confidence in the profession”?

Anon

When I was young (long before social media), I was always advised never to mention to a client what your religion was or how you voted, as it will alienate some clients. You are of course entitled to have political or religious opinions, but it was wise advice to keep them to yourself.

Social media is much worse. Sooner or later you will end up making an unguarded comment that make you look like a complete tool. I don’t think barristers are any worse than anyone else at making fools of themselves on social media, but personally I wouldn’t go near it if you are in any job or profession where as you will inevitably say some stupid which will come back to haunt you. Most barristers and solicitors I know do not use twitter for this reason. The minority who do generally regret it.

Counsel of Counsel

This. ^

I’m not on any social media for precisely this reason.

Also, given the passage of time, we have to be aware that views and opinions which are acceptable now might not be acceptable in decades to come and could be used against you then.

It will be no defence to say “but that was OK in the 2010s!”

You have been warned.

Kingy

What happened to freedom of speech?

Trying to gag lawyers, of all people, is deplorable. Who, if not they, should be free to weigh into public debates and arguments?

We will regret it in the end.

Anon

The authorities’ focus is on appeasing the snowflakes, the social justice warriors and the wimmin’s lobby.

Anonymous

The BSB is gets its knickers in a twist about barristers looking like twats on twitter, but is resistant to disbar barristers who drink drive, commit assault and take drugs. Marvellous.

Nemo

I cannot tell you what I think about this without risking the BSB Free Speech Control Stasi (Oversensitive Snowflake Protection Division) going into overdrive.

Anon

Not sure being prosecuted by the regulator is really the point. It is the immediacy of social media and its permanence that makes it unwise to use. Back in the day there were many occasions when I, drunk, pissed off or stressed composed letters on my electric typewriter to Resident Judges, List Offers, Clerks, Solicitors or other persons who had irritated me. But as to send the letter I had to physically type it out, put it in an envelope, address the envelope and post it the next day, I never posted those comments.

The thing that seemed totally justified at 2.00am with a few drinks inside me became the thing that in the morning I realised, “Hmm if I send that its not going to make things any better and is just going to make me look a ranting twat” and never got posted. If you are on twitter, the thing that sounded good at 2am with a few drinks inside you gets posted and remains on record for ever. Just don’t do it!

Cyclist

Say I express a view that transgender sports participants who were male biologically prior to reassignment of gender should not be permitted to participate in women’s sports because it is unfair to other women and disrupts the sport. If transgender campaigners are offended by that view, and they do seem to take offence at pretty much everything and everyone that does not agree with them, under the BSB note I could be exposed to disciplinary recourse. That is wrong.

Anonymous

To OP @4:24pm – never have I been in such a state where I thought that was a good idea. But perhaps that goes to show why I am not a barrister, and you are.

If barristers have to be nannied in this fashion, that speaks volumes about the collective character of the profession.

Cab Rank Rule

Think you are rather missing the point. Being a barrister means you are meant to be able to argue your client’s case and they should have confidence that you are doing so to the best of your abilities regardless of your personal views. That is why barristers shouldn’t tweet personal views. I have my views on matters. As an example, I think euthanasia should be legal in certain circumstances and cannabis should be legalised. Not asking you to agree. You may hold the opposite view and you are perfectly entitled to express it, as you are not a barrister.

But I do not tweet my own views on these subjects, as what if I was to be instructed to prosecute a cannabis possession case or instructed by a pro-life family to oppose a withdraw of treatment decision? My own views are and should be irrelevant, I’m bound by cab rank to advance the cause I am briefed to advance. If I am trumpeting my own views on social media, although I am entitled to do it, I don’t as that would undermine the confidence of those who hold the opposite view.

As you say, you are not a barrister. If for example you wish to express the view immigrants should be sent home, that is your right. Sorry if you cannot see why it isn’t appropriate for a barrister to do the same thing and then accept a brief to defend an immigrant. It isn’t nannying. The fact that you can’t see the moral problem with expressing views on twitter and accepting briefs to defend the contrary belief, speaks volumes about your character and does indeed explain why you are not a barrister.

Anonymous

I disagree. I express views on the law all the time, write articles on points and then often have to argue the contrary position. That is the position day in day out for many barristers. Expressing a view on social media is so far removed from that much more on point practical reality of the bar. If someone knows what I think on something they can instruct me on a more informed basis.

Anonymous

I don’t know that it would do much harm were a barrister to express personal views on a subject in terms of the publics’ view if they were subsequently to take on a case dealing with that subject. It doesn’t stop judges.

Cab Rank Rule

Think you are rather missing the point. Being a barrister means you are meant to be able to argue your client’s case and they should have confidence that you are doing so to the best of your abilities regardless of your personal views. That is why barristers shouldn’t tweet personal views. I have my views on matters. As an example, I think euthanasia should be legal in certain circumstances and cannabis should be legalised. Not asking you to agree. You may hold the opposite view and you are perfectly entitled to express it, as you are not a barrister. But I do not tweet my own views on these subjects, as what if I was to be instructed to prosecute a cannabis possession case or instructed by a pro-life family to oppose a withdraw of treatment decision? My own views are and should be irrelevant, I’m bound by cab rank to advance the cause I am briefed to advance. If I am trumpeting my own views on social media, although I am entitled to do it, I don’t as that would undermine the confidence of those who hold the opposite view.

As you say, you are not a barrister. If for example you wish to express the view immigrants should be sent home, that is your right. Sorry if you cannot see why it isn’t appropriate for a barrister to do the same thing and then accept a brief to defend an immigrant. It isn’t nannying. The fact that you can’t see the moral problem with expressing views on twitter and accepting briefs to defend the contrary belief, speaks volumes about your character and does indeed explain why you are not a barrister.

Cab Rank Rule

Yes. But if you read the BSB’s guidance, what the are cautioning against is the posting of “As a barrister I think X, Y and Z.” It’s been the code for donkey’s years that it is misconduct to use your status as a barrister when it is totally irrelevant. I am a barrister. I am also an Elder Scrolls on-line player and a historical weapons enthusiast (to name but a couple of my random interests). But I don’t post on ESO using my chambers account to complain that as a barrister I feel the decision of the Devs to nerf the Shadow Disguise ability was outrageous. I post as a level 50 Night blade that I think its outrageous. I don’t post on Shadverity to say that as a barrister his view that a long sword is the best weapon to use in the event of a zombie apocalypse is plainly nuts as its obviously the falchion.

As an induvial, you can be gay, straight, left, right, leave, remain and it is none of the regulators business. As a barrister you can only ever be a battered old taxi cab standing in line ready to take the next punter who crosses you door (and is prepared to pay a reasonable fee) to wherever he wants to go. The point being made by the BSB is that if you are tweeting in a way that identifies you as a barrister, then you do have to not be a twat! You can be as much of a twat as you like in your personal capacity.

Anonnn

This is it – I’ve heard plenty of barristers (particularly at the commercial end) make horribly racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments in private.

This may be why some London chambers only have one or two ethnic minorities and why sexual harassment in the profession is such a huge problem.

The BSB is undertaking a purely cosmetic exercise.

Anonymous

False accusations of sexual harassment are a massive problem.

Anonnn

False accusations of false accusations of sexual harassment are a massive problem.

Anonymous

Sure you did. Next?

Anonymous

Why are comments not appearing after the form has been submitted?

Is LC now stopping certain IPs from posting?

Richard J

Speaking as a barrister, do the public hold us in trust or confidence anyway?

Number 6

Probably not that much. But personally, I’m Old School about this. You just shouldn’t be posting your personal opinions with the “I am a barrister hashtag.” Being a barrister has absolutely nothing to do with your personal opinion on Brexit, best medieval weapons to be deployed against zombies and a million other subjects. It is an embarrassment frankly when barristers post on subjects that have nothing to do with being a barrister, whilst stating they are a barrister. You should not be posting (and I include numerous QCs in this) I am a barrister and I think X on a subject. So the fuck what? If you post as an induvial and talk shit, you may bring yourself into disrepute. If you post as a barrister you bring barristers into disrepute. The fact you are a barrister has no more relevance than if you were a plumber, builder, doctor or anything else.

I have never understood this obsession amongst my learned friends to post personal opinions with the caveat that they are a barrister. What the Fuck that has that got to do with it? My opinion on any subject except pure law has nothing to do with my being a barrister. I know no better than any other person on any other subject except pure law So I’ll happily debate you on Brexit, medieval weapons, computer games or any other subject under the sun as me, an individual. I do not mention when I do so I am a barrister as I am not speaking for barristers, I am speaking for me, right or wrong.

Never mind what the BSB may or not do to you. If you are arguing on social media that people should accept what you say (even if you are correct) because you are a barrister, then you bring all of us into disrepute. Not because what you say is wrong, but because the fact that you are a barrister has nothing to do with it and so, under the code, you should not be mentioning it.

“I am a prisoner, not a number.”

Richard J

Agreed. Totally

j

There are several QCs whose incessant tweeting brings the Bar into disrepute. Will the BSB go after them?

Anonymous

Depends on their gender.

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