The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has released a new report commissioned from YouGov, looking at bullying and harassment within the profession. The qualitative study, was commissioned as part of the regulator’s ongoing programme to address the root causes of bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar. The report involved 35 telephone interviews with 30 barristers, and five non-barristers, who had directly experienced or observed discrimination and harassment (including workplace bullying) at the Bar.
Key findings from the report suggest that:
- Participants described a range of experiences, varying from unfair treatment based on protected characteristics, sexual harassment, long term bullying, unreasonable work demands and unfair work allocation. Low to medium level incidents were the most common, especially for those who are from more than one underrepresented group such as Black and female, or Asian and LGBT.
- The Bar has a unique structure – most barristers are self-employed and reliant on clerks for their caseload, often with little formal management or HR structure uniting the two. Some participants felt this lack of formal management structure allowed harassment and discrimination to ”slip through the net.”
- Despite an increased focus on equality and diversity at the Bar, most barristers interviewed had not formally reported their experiences. The key reasons were fear of a negative impact on their reputation and, therefore, their earning potential and career progression.
- The lack of clear, anonymous and supportive formal and informal pathways to reporting incidents was seen as a barrier to addressing bullying, discrimination and harassment. Clearer and more accessible guidance about bullying, discrimination and harassment, its impacts, and when to report it, is needed.
- The report concludes that for anti-harassment policies and procedures to be effective, there needs to be a shift in culture at the Bar to encourage openness and to discourage inappropriate behaviour, with a role for the BSB, the Bar Council and other stakeholders in driving change and offering support.
Speaking about the research, BSB Head of Equality and Access to Justice, Amit Popat said:
“We are committed to working alongside the profession and other stakeholders to root out bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar in all their forms. This targeted study amongst those who have directly experienced or observed bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar adds a very useful perspective to our understanding of how and why this behaviour is still occurring. It is plain from the study that there are significant cultural factors, including power imbalances, which inhibit the reporting of bullying and harassment. The Bar Standards Board will therefore be convening a roundtable with key stakeholders in the near future to discuss how, within the framework of chambers, supportive arrangements can be established which enable incidences of bullying and harassment to be reported and properly addressed. This must be a high priority for the profession.”