The #Metoo movement is catching up with barristers, at least in Britain, where a survey has shown that one in five barristers has experienced “inappropriate behaviour”.
The survey was commissioned by the UK’s Bar Council, showing an increase in bad behaviour since its last survey four years ago and notwithstanding measures taken to deal with the issue, which has risen to prominence with the rise of the #Metoo movement.
This follows the set-up in the UK of the Behind the Gown group of concerned barristers which indicated that sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power at both the Bar and in the courts was rife.
A Guardian report in May reported a female QC telling the meeting – “This is not a snowflake matter. The reality is that [bullying] also happens in court. Very few people make complaints.” Younger barristers often felt “belittled” by judges. “If the judge was taking it out on you, that’s not acceptable.”
Elizabeth Prochaska, the legal director for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and founder of Behind the Gown, told the BBC “In chambers, you have a group of individuals who have agreed to work together but who are not managed by any central structure.
“We know from a recent survey that 40% of women [at the bar] complained that they had been subject to sexual harassment. [But] when people raise their voices about unacceptable behaviour, they are told to keep quiet.
“There is a spectrum on which there are many types of abuse of power. It’s a broader problem than sexual harassment. People can complain to the Bar Standards Board but we found that there had been only two complaints of sexual harassment to the BSB in the past two years.”
The Bar Council research showed that about 30 per cent of the 4,092 barristers who responded also claimed to have observed bullying or harassment against others, noting also that harassment was mainly against women and also the worst in criminal law.
The perpetrators were mainly fellow barristers or chambers’ clerks, respondents said.
The UK Bar Council has also previously issued a report, ‘Tackling Sexual Harassment’ and has repeatedly indicated the seriousness with which it views such matters, concerned that their efforts are not reflected in better behaviour from members at the UK Bar.
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