The Bar Council marked Anti-Bullying Week (14-18 November) by promoting the various resources and support we have on offer to the profession and, as we head into Christmas party season in December, we are mindful that this time of celebration with colleagues can sometimes become an ordeal of sexual innuendo, inappropriate advances, groping and harassment.

In these types of instances, supporting a colleague who has endured an awful and traumatic experience remains vitally important. Taking action against the perpetrators is also crucial – it does make a difference, and we are here to help.

Reporting unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour to the Bar Council demonstrates that you do not tolerate or condone it, and enables us to focus in on the most problematic areas, collate the evidence (often anonymously) and ascertain the key patterns and trends.

We offer practical support, guidance, a confidential helpline and an online reporting tool called Talk to Spot. We have lots of experience of dealing with complaints and always respond with sympathy and respect. Our policy and campaign work is grounded in the evidence and information that is provided to us by the profession.

Individuals who are targeted often don’t report the abuse because of the status of the perpetrator, for fear of repercussions and incidents being endemic. We also know that younger barristers are disproportionately affected by bullying and sexual harassment, and that is why we want the Young Bar to help us to develop and implement solutions.

But this is everyone’s problem. From senior leaders to incoming pupils, we all need to take ownership. We regularly organise training sessions and our next online event takes place on Tuesday 28 February from 9.00 to 11.00. This training is designed to raise awareness of harassment, bullying and inappropriate behaviour using a series of practical case studies drawn from experience across the profession. It also includes a summary of legal and regulatory duties relating to sexual harassment.  

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team at the Bar Council is a centre of expertise and support for both individuals and chambers. We work alongside the Bar Council’s elected representatives, who support colleagues and volunteer on our committee. The Bar Council’s Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committee is Co-Chaired by Elaine Banton and Sa’ad Hossain KC who are leading the collective efforts to create positive, meaningful change.

The Bar Council has focused on tackling bullying, harassment, and inappropriate behaviour for many years, and we continue to work with lots of stakeholders. Our work extends to engaging with the Judiciary, Circuits, Specialist Bar Associations, and Chambers because we cannot achieve success if we do this work on our own. Furthermore, we very much welcome the Lord Chief Justice’s commitment to introduce bespoke training for judges.

All our stakeholders play an essential part in creating and maintaining the culture at the Bar each and every day. We are all responsible for the culture within the legal system, and we need to work collaboratively to make shifts and improvements.

That’s why we extend the Bar Council’s support to other related initiatives. For example, the All Rise project asks all barristers to actively create a better culture for everyone at the Bar by encouraging all barristers to become ‘active bystanders’ – by speaking out and standing up to abuse. The initiative is endorsed by the Bar Council and was created by Chris Gutteridge, Bo Kay Fung, Lydia Pemberton and Morayo Fagborun Bennett who just so happened to meet at a Bar Council event.

There are certainly no quick wins and easy fixes, but it benefits all of us to get involved. Don’t be an apathic bystander this Christmas, help us to help you root out the problems and achieve a better Bar for all. 

You can find the Bar Council’s various anti-bullying resources and support here. 

All Rise aims to encourage 25% of barristers to be active bystanders against bullying, belittling and bad behaviour at the Bar.