Barristers given fresh guidance on social media behaviour 

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By Thomas Connelly on

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‘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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11 Comments

Bar Censorship Board

Pathetic censorship of personal free speech. The BSB want barristers to be dull identikit drones.

Bar Civilisation Board

Here comes the Proud Boy Trump supporter Boogalooo

Yeah buddy

That’s pretty weak straw-man argumentation there. There is a vast difference between the BSB’s censorship drive and what the US far right advocate as free speech. If you can’t see the difference and why your post is fatuous then you might want to choose a profession other than law.

Stop the rambling tweets please

Unless it is related to the areas of law they work in, barristers should not be tweeting at all imo. They only do so to feed their egos. I have great respect for barristers that just focus on their work and don’t spend hours engaging in pointless wang waving twitter spats for a few likes. No one in the real world cares that you are a barrister so stop tweeting as if your opinion matters. Unless, as I said, it’s related to your area of legal expertise.

Stop the hypocrisy please

And yet you see fit to express this view online. Double standards, I see.

If everyone does the same..

Why single out barristers and prevent only them from Tweeting? Your argument is that they shouldn’t be tweeting about anything that is not connected to their work. On that basis, unless you are in legal marketing, you shouldn’t be allowed to post on here either. And no one else should be Tweeting about anything else that isn’t to do with their work, right?

Not sure you have thought this through at all..

Twitter sucks

I never think through things on here, it’s always bait to get more people to comment as these empty comment sections are so boring.

ANON

I wonder if all those ranting silks will comply with this guidance?

Al

It’s been fun going through the ‘hypothetical’ case studies and working out which of us they’re based on.

Hamsters are friends not food

The madness gets worse and worse. Now the Bar Council are forcing “contextual recruitment” nonsense into the pupillage procedure.

Scouser of Counsel

It is not so much tweeting opinions that are outside the orthodoxy that barristers have to be careful of.

Most are not stupid enough to express a view that goes against the grain in an era when one can be disciplined for expressing an opinion.

The danger is that if one expresses an opinion that is uncontroversial or even laudable according to the orthodoxy in 2023, it may no longer be so in 20 years time.

In that case, the barrister of 2043 will face public shame and embarrassment for what they said in 2023, and have to disclaim their previous views as “wrong then and wrong now”.

As such, I’m not on any social media and never will be.

Not because my own opinions are extreme or particularly controversial by the standards of today, but because they might be in 2043, and I don’t own a crystal ball.

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