Chambers could be asked to publish the number of workplace harassment and discrimination complaints that are made against tenants as part of efforts to ‘eliminate unfair treatment of female barristers’.

In an action plan announced today the Bar Standards Board (BSB) said it was considering several recommendations, one of which would involve ‘expanded monitoring’ of chambers.

Current policy only calls for chambers to have a ‘proper procedure’ for handling complaints.

The BSB’s recommendations say chambers could be required to record and report the number of complaints received, and the outcomes of those complaints. Annual reports on the number of harassment/discrimination experiences and a requirement for policies to be published or provided to staff and tenants before they join a set has also been suggested.

Other proposals include asking chambers to disclose the reasons for allocating work to a particular barrister and the number of flexible working requests a chambers receives.

A BSB spokesperson told the Gazette: ‘If the BSB were to consider this it would involve formal consultation before any potential rule changes can be made. The focus is on how chambers can better monitor, record and address discrimination through their internal management processes and how this can improve working culture.’

The announcement follows the BSB’s ‘Women at the Bar’ report in 2016 which found that women could face treatment including harassment, discrimination and unfair allocation of work.

After that report, the BSB held workshops with barristers, barristers’ clerks, chambers’ directors, circuit leaders, specialist bar associations and training providers to come up with a plan for tackling the problem.

Ewen MacLoed, BSB director of strategy and policy, said: ‘These proposals seek to focus on the unfair treatment of women barristers and to improve the retention and progress of women at the bar. It is clear that the profession needs to continue to work together to address these issues, ensure more wide-spread compliance with our equality rules, learn from the examples of good practice that exist at the Bar, and to focus on delivering practical and workable solutions.’

The BSB said it will continue to engage with the Bar Council, Legal Practice Management Association, Institute of Barristers’ Clerks, Inns of Court and other stakeholders.

Sam Mercer, head of policy: equality & diversity at representative body the Bar Council said much of the BSB’s action plan ‘appears to support and recognise’ the importance and value of work that the council has already undertaken. ‘Given that many of the ideas outlined intersect with our experience of working closely with the bar, we are keen to engage with the BSB on behalf of the profession,’ she said.

LAW GAZZETE

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