Women and black barristers working in a law firm, the Crown Prosecution Service or Government Legal Department are most likely to report that they have experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination at work, according to the Bar Council.

There are currently 3,106 employed barristers who make up a fifth of the whole bar. In a report exploring life at the employed bar, the Bar Council said 31% of employed barristers who responded to its 2021 working lives survey said they experienced bullying, discrimination or harassment. Asked who was responsible for the alleged discrimination, a quarter of respondents said another barrister, 19% said a manager and 16.1% said a judge.

Employed barristers who are women, identify as Black/Black British and who either work in a solicitors’ firm, the CPS or GLD are most likely to report having experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination,’ the report says.

Just over a quarter of women experienced bullying and harassment at work in person, compared with 10.2% of men; 22.9% of women experienced discrimination at work in person, compared with 6% of men.

The report says black employed barristers made up a disproportionate share of those who said they personally experienced discrimination in person at work as well as those who experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination while working online. A disproportionately high number of barristers in law firms said they had been bullied or harassed compared with their share of respondents in the survey.

CPS employees made up 19.2% of survey respondents but represented 24.3% of those who said they experienced bullying or harassment at work either in person or online, and 23.3% of those who said they observed bullying or harassment at work.

The report says 15.7% of employed barristers work at the GLD. However, they accounted for 19.4% of survey respondents who said they experienced discrimination online.

In focus groups conducted for the report, one barrister felt the employed bar offered greater protection to minorities – but they had previously resigned from a post due to discrimination within the organisation. Another said they experienced bullying in two companies. Two barristers said they experienced discrimination linked to disability and sex.

The report concludes that the perception of the employed bar being a more diverse and inclusive workplace ‘can mask some serious issues’. Bullying, harassment and discrimination ‘appears to be as much an issue among employed practitioners as it is at the self-employed bar’.

The Bar Council’s policy efforts on tackling bullying and harassment should include a focus on the employed bar, the report recommends. ‘This includes promotion of the Talk to Spot reporting platform, which enables the Bar Council to track and monitor incidents in order to identify appropriate interventions. In particular, the Bar Council should work with the Crown Prosecution Service and Government Legal Department, as well as law firms, to encourage and support culture change programmes and initiatives to tackle bullying and harassment.’

A CPS spokesperson said: ‘We have zero tolerance for bullying, harassment, or discrimination, and so are saddened to see these findings. We take supporting our people extremely seriously, and we encourage our staff to seek advice and raise any concerns they have about inappropriate behaviours they see or experience at work.

‘Our Principles and Diversity and Inclusion Statement for the Bar set out what is expected of our staff, as well as bar and chambers colleagues to ensure respect of equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace and at court. It is fundamental that we uphold these principles so that we can deliver fair prosecutions and build confidence among the communities we serve.’

Law Society Gazette

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