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‘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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25 Comments

Anonymous

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.

(22)(32)

Tenant

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.

(46)(2)

LikeItIs

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

(8)(37)

LikeItIs

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.

(26)(11)

:)

“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.”

Duhhhh.

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.

(19)(3)

Legal Genius

Enough of these stories of ‘sexist cultures’…

(5)(13)

Anonymous

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.

(16)(4)

D

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

(7)(19)

:)

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
LawCare
Solicitors Regulation Authority

(3)(24)

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.

(53)(5)

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