UK- Regulators have moved to clamp down on ‘gratuitous attacks on the judiciary or the justice system’ by barristers on social media.

Revised social media guidance from the Bar Standards Board, which follows the conclusion of a consultation on conduct in non-professional life, covers barristers’ duties under the BSB Handbook on social media use both in a professional and in a personal capacity.

The regulator says the guidance ‘seeks to make clear that it is the manner in which barristers express their views that is more likely to concern us rather than the substance of that view’. Bu it adds: ‘Although the substance of a barrister’s view may also raise regulatory issues.’

The nine-page guidance lists a ‘non-exhaustive’ set of examples of the types of conduct on social media that could amount to a breach, including ‘comments about judges, the judiciary, or the justice system which involve gratuitous attacks or serious criticisms that are misleading and do not have a sound factual basis’.

The BSB has also published new guidance on the regulation of non-professional conduct which seeks to clarify where regulatory boundaries lie in relation to conduct that occurs outside the scope of a barrister’s professional practice.

The 12-page document says: ‘Having a regulatory interest in conduct does not mean that regulatory action will necessarily follow.’

BSB director general Mark Neale said: ‘After carefully considering the wide range of responses we received to our consultation, these revised guidance documents provide greater clarity rather than indicating a significant change to our approach.

‘The documents explain more clearly how we will apply the existing rules and how we try to balance barristers’ obligations under the BSB Handbook with their rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.’

Nick Vineall KC, chair of the Bar Council, said: ‘We think that the BSB has struck the appropriate balance, and it is right that the regulator focuses on the use of language that is seriously offensive, discriminatory, bullying or harassing. There is absolutely no place for bullying or discrimination, online or offline, at the Bar.

‘The Bar ought to be a profession where everyone is capable of maintaining civil discourse.

‘Regardless of where the line is drawn in terms of professional misconduct, there will be a huge space where comment that does not amount to misconduct is nevertheless unkind, unnecessary, and profoundly undesirable. Ultimately, if you would not say something to someone’s face, don’t say it to them, or about them, on social media.’

The Law Society Gazette