You are here

Bar Council to tackle sexual harassment in chambers

Chambers must be compliant with relevant rules and better equipped to handle complaints

7 March 2016

Add comment

The Bar Council has stepped up its efforts to tackle sexual harassment in the barrister profession.

Inappropriate attitudes within the legal profession made headlines in 2015, following Lord Sumption's controversial remarks regarding women judges and barrister Charlotte Proudman's outing of sexist comments from a high-flying City solicitor on social media.

Last week, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) confirmed that there was a case for DLA partner Nicholas West to answer in relation to an allegation made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

West has been accused of exchanging sexist emails with one of his clients, the Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore.

Ahead of International Women's Day, the Bar Council has issued new guidance aimed at ensuring chambers handle any allegation of harassment in the proper manner.

The guide, which is part of the council's practice and ethics hub, includes tips and case study scenarios, victim support information, and advice on encouraging self-reporting of sexual harassment to the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

The Bar Council says this is a step forward making chambers not only compliant with the relevant rules, but also better able to handle complaints as and when they arise.

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chairman of the Bar, said: 'We have a clear road map on what Bar Council, as the profession's representative body, can do to better support barristers and it is time to take action. This guide is another step in a series of support tools that the Bar Council is leading on.'

Meanwhile, Fiona Jackson, vice-chair of the Bar Council's equality diversity and social mobility committee, said the latest guidance contributes to the Bar's wider aim of relegating 'residual pernicious sexual harassment' to the past and ensuring a level playing field in practice where 'all barristers can thrive and succeed to the highest levels'.

'Harassment should not be tolerated in any circumstances and that complaints should be taken seriously and echoes the Bar Council's ongoing commitment to protecting potentially more vulnerable members of chambers and ensuring that they feel supported when making complaints,' Jackson added.

The latest guidance from the Bar Council forms part of the response to its 2015 research, Snapshot: The Experience of Self-Employed Women at the Bar, which highlighted instances of unacceptable behaviour experienced by some barristers.

Reports of recent sexual harassment were found to be rare, while the most significant challenge for women was in avoiding being pushed into certain types of work and balancing career and caring responsibilities.

The findings suggested that women barristers now have a more positive experience in training and in their early years of practice than was historically the case. Those who had been in practice for some time did talk of a hostile working environment, inappropriate behaviours, and discrimination in the allocation of work when they began their legal careers.

A recent event held at international firm Allen & Overy heard from a panel of human rights lawyers on the challenges they face in private practice. The overwhelming consensus from the panel, and those delegates in attendance, was that legal stereotypes often dictate the careers of women lawyers.

Categorised in:

The Bar