The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published the results of a recent study undertaken by YouGov to understand better why bullying, discrimination and harassment still exist at the Bar in 2020.
The qualitative study, which is part of the regulator’s ongoing programme to address the root causes of bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar, saw 35 telephone interviews conducted with 30 barristers, and five non-barristers, who had directly experienced or observed discrimination and harassment (including workplace bullying) at the Bar.
The aim of the study was to explore the impacts and possible drivers of bullying, discrimination and harassment, and the enablers and barriers to reporting it, as well as to identify any unmet support needs.
Key findings from the report suggest that:
- Participants described a wide range of bullying, discrimination and harassment 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.” Pupil barristers who are early in their career and reliant on chambers for their progression, were seen as particularly vulnerable.
- Bullying, discrimination and harassment can have both short and long-term consequences. Diminished self-esteem, anxiety, mental health complications and negative impacts on physical health were some of the long-term effects cited while negative socioeconomic consequences were also reported such as a dip in earning capacity, disruption of fruitful professional relationships, low job satisfaction and absenteeism.
- 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.”
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, said:
“This report is a helpful reminder that everyone at the Bar needs to keep shining a light on bullying, discrimination and harassment. The BSB’s findings reflect our own experience of work on this behaviour which has long-term negative consequences for individuals and the profession as a whole.
Although we have been encouraging barristers to make confidential reports whether to someone they know, our helpline or to our anonymous, online tool, Talk to Spot, we must double our efforts. We want to do all we can to support those who are on the receiving end of wrong behaviour. We continue to work with chambers, Specialist Bar Associations and the judiciary to change the culture at the Bar. We are clear that this behaviour must be called out and stamped out.”
Catherine Calder and Rachel Holmes, Co-Chairs of the Legal Practice Management Association said:
“The LPMA applauds the BSB for carrying out this further research on bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar. Our members are committed to fostering the necessary culture and process within sets of chambers to encourage openness, to discourage and challenge inappropriate behaviour, and to support those affected.”
Mark Rushton, Vice-Chair of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) said:
“The IBC will continue to do all they can to work with the BSB and the Bar Council to encourage a more open and inclusive culture at the Bar.”
The full report is available on the BSB website.
Notes to editors
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