‘Culture of fear’ prevents female barristers speaking out against bullying and harassment

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Comments include male barristers discussing which female colleagues they ‘wanted to shag’, report finds

A “culture of fear” around reporting bullying, harassment or discrimination exists at the bar, according to a new report by the Association of Women Barristers (AWB).

According to the report, ‘In the age of ‘Us Too?’ Moving towards a zero-tolerance attitude to harassment and bullying at the bar’, “many barristers would be afraid to speak out against discrimination, harassment or bullying due to fear that to do so would negatively impact upon their careers — or that they could be ‘victimised’ by those more senior or their peers as a result.”

Also hindering women from coming forward is the “so-called gentlemanly culture” at the bar, where it is inappropriate to challenge or report bad behaviour by another barrister. Such behaviour includes “comments being made by male barristers about the appearance of female barristers and discussing which female barristers they ‘wanted to shag’”, the report claims.

In addition to the bad behaviour that “still abounds” within robing rooms and bar messes, female barristers are often excluded from conversations about cases, particularly in multi-counsel cases, where they can find themselves “‘talked over’ or ignored by male co-counsel”.

Such discrimination is also seen among male solicitors, who can “overlook” women when distributing leading briefs. The report, which was co-authored by AWB chair Lynne Townley and Judge Kaly Kaul QC, says:

“For example, a female barrister who quite properly chooses to decline an invitation to go for a drink with an instructing solicitor may receive no further briefs from that solicitor.”

This can lead to a gender imbalance particularly in specialist areas, as seen in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, where “the vast majority of those appearing before [judges] as leading counsel were men”.

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The report, based on a roundtable discussion between leading practitioners, also states that “old fashioned views” continue to permeate the bar, which expect female barristers to be “charming, funny and feminine”. Those who are seen as having a “full on personality” are instead branded negatively, as being “aggressive” or “strident”.

Another contributing factor to the power imbalance among barristers is inadequate facilities for women in court centres. “We are concerned about the fact that there are sometimes no private facilities available at certain court centres where a woman who is breast-feeding can extract and dispose of breast milk. One participant found herself having to use a conference room for this purpose — but the door didn’t lock”, the report states.

“The failure to provide for these most basic of needs can lead to feelings of exclusion and feelings of ‘not belonging’ at the bar,” it adds.

Among the recommendations the AWB puts forward to tackle harassment and bullying at the bar, it suggests that chambers should introduce greater flexible-working policies on maternity leave and clerking regimes tailored to barristers juggling family commitments.

Additionally, the AWB calls for more training for judges and barristers on bullying, harassment, unconscious bias and diversity, as well as increased support for victims, such as a counselling hotline.

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More moaning without any tangible evidence. Round-table discussions are just a spiralling echo chamber after skewed self-selection of participants. What is truly disgraceful is that such “research”, beloved of the SJW academic and researchers for hire out there because it helps them get “data” to suit their aims, is that it is used by the authorities in the profession to distort processes that affect people’s lives.



I sometimes think there are two separate Bars.

At the Bar I inhabit, people are respectful of each another. If someone said something inappropriate, they would be called out. I don’t know of anyone who would feel unable to talk to either the head of chambers or one of the silks (several of whom are women). I also cannot imagine a set of circumstances where, if a person did speak out, it would harm their careers – our careers are managed by our clerking team and by our own relationships with clients.

Unfortunately it seems there is another Bar, where sets are controlled by a cadre of crusty white male toffs who somehow choose which member gets which cases, accept tenancy applications only from those who went to a specific public school, and abuse female pupils with impunity.

From everything I read, it seems to be that this second Bar is the overwhelming norm. I should say, I’ve never met anyone from that second Bar, but I suppose I must be deeply sheltered.



First is real. The second is a fictional construct of social justice warriors.



Discussing who people would shag is called “life”. Are these same women self-reporting using the fancy new app when they refer to a colleague or solicitor as “dishy” or the like after a few G&Ts? Bet not. Yet half of the group seem to end up marrying within the legal profession.



“For example, a female barrister who quite properly chooses to decline an invitation to go for a drink with an instructing solicitor may receive no further briefs from that solicitor.”


As a self-employed person surely it is clear that if you don’t network with prospective clients then someone else may and that someone else will also become said client’s go to barrister.


Legal Genius

Enough of these stories of ‘sexist cultures’…



There’s nothing improper about asking someone for a drink whether they are male or female, there’s not necessarily anything sexual about it. Some people have dirty minds and see sex everywhere – its unsurprising if people like this turn down business opportunities then they will lose business.



Sadly it seems some female lawyers feel that way according to the report.



I think the AWB might start by training themselves. At its most basic level this report looks like nothing more than misandry.



Mediation is the best way to resolve this type of thing.

What do you mean by ‘stalking’?



This sounds like the same person commenting, about 1 case, not plural victims.



You should be more outraged about the idea of your girlfriend or sister having their office harassment complaint dealt with by a BPTC student.

You must remember how useless some of them are, right?

Shocking lack of compliance and empathy by the barristers acting as trustees and patrons.



Dull hijacking by a moaner with an axe to grind. Please bugger off and take your moaning to someone who cares.



I don’t know the charity.

What proof do you have that they acted in a racist way (breakdown of numbers of BAME women versus non BAME women claiming racism as a reason for leaving please, together with reasons for the claim of racism)?



The charity asked BAME volunteers to work together with White volunteers to prepare tribunal cases, stating that their feared BAME volunteers could suffer racial abuse from certain clients.

Ironically, abuse against the BAME volunteers came from the White volunteers they were paired up with, not the clients. Staff ignored BAME volunteers when they suffered verbal abuse in the office.

BAME volunteers didn’t leave willingly – their membership was revoked unilaterally after attending several mediation sessions for sexual harassment.

White volunteers who had been disciplined for verbal abuse in front of clients were not kicked out from the charity or reported to the BSB for their conduct, contrary to the Code.



This still sounds like one person talking about 1 incident, but using the plural for some reason?



Anon, you might not give a damn about how BAME women are treated in an office and may not work with any in your chambers, but many BAME people think differently.

There is a culture of dismissiveness, silence and denial surrounding harassment at the Bar.



This is awful.

So many disabled people desperate to have pro bono representation at their benefits tribunal too.



The person who keeps moaning, if you have concerns about any charity, or a legal organisation there are a number of places to raise this. The comment section on Legal Cheek isn’t really the best place.

Check out:
Bar Standards Board
Charity Commission
CILEX Regulation
Solicitors Regulation Authority



I have concluded that you are the same person talking about your personal experience under different user names and using plural words to create an inaccurate impression.



Go on – Have me arrested for it.



Exactly, take a hike off this thread and every other thread you ruin with your tripe.



Secret Barrister should really speak out about the lack of access to justice for charity volunteers.



Shocked I tells ya

Wow. Looks like a lot of barristers are terrified their crappy treatment of women is about to become public knowledge.

The AWB highlight childish and sexist attitudes, and the comments show exactly that!

Colour me surprised.



There’s never any statistics or objective evidence of these mass ‘false accusations’ though.

They exist mainly in the minds of people frightened that their public mask is about to fall, so of course they have to quickly find an excuse.

All those false accusations you know.
That no-one has any numbers of. Anywhere.


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