Barristers given fresh guidance on social media behaviour 

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By Thomas Connelly on


‘Strike balance’ between human rights and professional obligations, says regulator

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has issued fresh guidance on how barristers should conduct themselves online in a bid to clarify when it is likely to take regulatory action.

Following the conclusion of consultation earlier this summer, the BSB has this week approved new guidelines that look establish where the regulatory boundaries lie in relation to conduct that occurs outside the scope of a barrister’s professional practice.

The updated social media guidance gives a number of examples where the regulator may take action, including: “the use of language that is seriously offensive, discriminatory, bullying or harassing; linking to or reposting such content without indicating disagreement with it; gratuitous attacks on the judiciary or the justice system; or posting content which might breach client confidentiality.”

The regulator says such conduct on social media, both in a professional and personal capacity, may be of regulatory interest because it can have an impact upon public confidence in the barrister or the profession.

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The guidance also seeks to make clear that it is the manner in which barristers express their views that is more likely to concern the regulator rather than the substance of that view — although it stresses the substance of a barrister’s view may also raise regulatory issues. You can read the guidance in full here.

The regulator says it has sought to “strike a balance” between barristers’ human rights and their professional obligations under the BSB Handbook in developing the new guidance.

“After carefully considering the wide range of responses we received to our consultation, these revised guidance documents provide greater clarity rather than indicating a significant change to our approach,” BSB director deneral Mark Neale said. “The documents explain more clearly how we will apply the existing rules and how we try to balance barristers’ obligations under the BSB Handbook with their rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.”

Responding to the update, Nick Vineall KC, chair of the Bar Council, said:

“The Bar Council welcomes the new guidance from the BSB. As we know from our own ethical enquiries service, issues relating to social media and barristers’ private lives can be difficult to navigate. We think that the BSB has struck the appropriate balance, and it is right that the regulator focuses on the use of language that is seriously offensive, discriminatory, bullying or harassing. There is absolutely no place for bullying or discrimination, online or offline, at the bar.”

He added: “The bar ought to be a profession where everyone is capable of maintaining civil discourse. Regardless of where the line is drawn in terms of professional misconduct, there will be a huge space where comment that does not amount to misconduct is nevertheless unkind, unnecessary, and profoundly undesirable. Ultimately, if you would not say something to someone’s face, don’t say it to them, or about them, on social media.”

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