Judiciary blamed for upsurge of bullying at bar

The bar is reporting a fresh surge of concern about bullying, harassment and discrimination – with most of the reports identifying members of the judiciary as culprits.

A survey by the Bar Council found 44 per cent had experienced or observed this behaviour while working either in person or online, an increase from 38 per cent in 2021 and 31 per cent in 2017.

Of the 1233 barristers who reported experiencing or observing bullying and/or harassment, the majority (53 per cent) reported a member of the judiciary as the person responsible, up from 45 per cent in 2021.

Barristers working in criminal and family practice were more likely than average to have experienced bullying or harassment (43 per cent and 37 per cent respectively), while more than half of female barristers from ethnic minority backgrounds reported experiencing bullying or harassment. 

Some respondents reported experiencing or observing sexual harassment, with behaviours including sexual propositions, being the subject of sexist behaviour on work WhatsApp groups, receiving sexually explicit content via email or social media and people ‘bragging’ about sexual conquests or virility.

The Bar Council found that the main reason given for not reporting incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination is fear of repercussions.

In a statement, it said: ‘The Bar Council believes this is a systemic issue; it is in part a consequence of both the culture of the bar, and the external pressures placed on professional life at the Bar. Unrealistic expectations, impatience and frustration can be experienced as bullying. Discrimination and harassment, however, cannot be explained or excused by external pressures.

The representative body said it is commissioning a review,  to report by spring 2025, that will consider and identify solutions, specifically to identify prevention and mitigating strategies.

Bar chair Nick Vineall KC said: ‘The bar should not tolerate any bullying, harassment or discriminatory behaviour. Wellbeing, retention and progression of barristers are all affected by the way we are treated by colleagues and the Bar Council is committed to addressing the problems highlighted by the data.’