The Bar is considered a fundamental part of our legal system in ensuring that justice is not only done but is seen to be done. While barristers are expected to act with integrity, there is a contradiction in that harassment, bullying and sexism remains part and parcel of our culture. The Bar Council’s 2021 Barristers’ Working Lives Survey revealed 43% of female barristers experienced bullying and harassment from colleagues or judges – in person or online – compared with 11% of male barristers. The situation is even more stark for female barristers of colour – 58% had personally experienced bullying and harassment at work, in person or online, compared with 15% of White male barristers.

I have experienced sexism and blatant misogyny from largely (but not exclusively) White male barristers and solicitors since my mini-pupillage days. When I recalled how I was groped by a male barrister in a taxi on the way to court, a common response was: ‘Why didn’t you report him?’ I know the consequences of speaking up about sexual harassment. Most of us (who care to look) have seen women subjected to misogynistic abuse to discourage them from highlighting injustice for women and campaigning for change.

It is over seven years since I challenged sexual harassment in a public forum. Of course, I was seen as the problem, not the issue I sought to highlight, and received threatening comments from solicitors that I had committed ‘career suicide’. Fast forward a year or so and MeToo, the global feminist movement, changed our cultural landscape. My LinkedIn story was small fry compared to women publicly sharing rape and abuse claims about men in positions of great power. Many knew it was going on but dared not speak out for fear that the costs would be too great.

Women in the public eye who challenge male violence often suffer the very same abuse through misogynistic threats – and even vicious complaints that threaten their livelihood, family and safety. In 2021, London’s Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman OBE, revealed misogynists had been trying to harass and discredit her by banding together on social media to silence her attempts to reform the family courts through the Domestic Abuse Bill. Labour MP Apsana Begum took a leave of absence last year after a ‘campaign of misogynistic abuse’ caused strain on her mental and physical health.

Stella Creasy MP, campaigner for women’s and mothers’ rights, recently revealed that an online troll made a false report to social services to try and get her children removed because of her feminist views. She was investigated by social services for, essentially, parenting while a feminist, yet he wasn’t even cautioned for a malicious complaint despite wasting valuable resources and causing her family great distress. The MP said she was told the complainant would not face criminal sanctions (just a community resolution) as he was ‘entitled’ to his view and as a public figure she should expect such.

It is not just public figures. In Toxic Twitter: a toxic place for women, Amnesty International warns: ‘At a watershed moment when women around the world are using their collective power to speak out and amplify their voices through social media platforms… many women are instead being pushed backwards to a culture of silence.’ Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has also pointed out the use of online abuse to discredit women’s soft power: ‘Of course both men and women can experience incidents... but women who speak out about issues around feminism, gender equality, sexual abuse and women’s rights [are] considerably more likely to be victims of repeated and severe forms of harmful actions online or with the help of technology.’

A paper in The British Journal of Criminology by Ruth Lewis, Mike Rowe and Clare Wiper (Vol 57, Issue 6, Nov 2017) reported the experiences of online abuse among women who debate feminist politics and argued it is most usefully conceived as a form of abuse or violence against women and girls.

As a feminist campaigner and barrister who speaks up for victims of rape, domestic abuse and coercive control in the justice system, I have suffered relentless online abuse for the past three years – including from my colleagues. This has extended to over 100 complaints made to my regulatory body, the Bar Standards Board (BSB), and my chambers in an attempt to have me disbarred or sanctioned. Misogynistic online sneering from often senior professional peers has become part of my daily life.

Echoing age-old rhetoric, regurgitated any time a woman dare question the patriarchy, I am called egotistical, mentally ill and a dangerous extremist. My physical appearance is attacked, and qualifications blithely dismissed – followed by a mass cry to have me disciplined by anybody who has power over me.

Seemingly unmoved by the substance of my work advancing the rights of women and girls in the courts, including gender-based violence, domestic abuse and female genital mutilation, these barristers choose to write: ‘If you want to be a barrister, stop being a c*nt’ or ‘When you’re screaming into the wind on a stormy night, how long does it take for people in white coats to come and escort you back to your padded room?’ Others advise that ‘those “coquette” photo[s]’ of me in my wig and gown ‘don’t help women to be taken seriously’. Many do not even try to disguise the misogyny behind their words, as illustrated by a solicitor’s tweet: ‘Is she stuck in 1974? Maybe her husband ought to take away her mobile phone & send her back to the kitchen to get his dinner.’ A hateful parody account of me is followed by KCs, barristers and solicitors.

Abusing me seemed to become a sport among some of my peers, and this signalled to dangerous men that it was acceptable to send me death and rape threats. I would watch as men filled the replies to my peers’ tweets, calling me a ‘thick c*nt’, ‘f*cking stupid’ or: ‘you need sectioning’ and ‘disbarring’. The misogynistic abuse extended so far that a man is now being prosecuted for alleged harassment putting me in fear of violence and carrying a knife.

Common criticisms levelled against me are that I block accounts talking about me and choose not to engage in ad hominem Twitter attacks with those often much more senior and powerful than me. An anonymous blogger at the Bar recently called me narcissistic, an attention seeker and childish in a tweet, after I suggested that the eight-year sentence Gary Glitter had initially served for child sex abuse did not represent justice for his victims. Their tweet inevitably fuelled further disparaging comments, including the suggestion I needed a slap. A sentiment they neither addressed nor discouraged.

My colleagues’ desire to ‘discipline’ me often extends to them tagging the BSB or my chambers with comments such as ‘@barstandards it really is long overdue for you to do something about the dangerous @drproudman. @GoldsmithChambs, you too.’ Following some barristers’ calls for complaints about me, an incel wearing a frightening mask produced a video last year with a step-by-step guide of how to complain about me to my regulatory body, chambers and the university where I teach.

In a matter of minutes, people fired off dozens of sickening complaints, accusing me of misandry and radical extremist views. The BSB has never acknowledged that these are malicious complaints designed to silence and punish me – nor has it investigated the vexatious complaints from other barristers. Indeed, the BSB always writes back to lay people thanking them for their complaint, writing, ‘please be assured it has been kept on record’. One barrister even complained that I had written an article in the Guardian about Kate Kniveton MP’s case, in which I said it was perverse for a rape victim to be ordered by the family courts to financially subsidise her rapist’s costs of child contact in a supervised centre. I went on to successfully appeal the decision to the High Court and now there is a strong presumption against any victim paying for a perpetrator’s costs of contact. But just as Creasy’s children now have a social services record after a malevolent complaint, I now have a trail of vitriolic reports against me on my record. It shows just how easy it is for malicious actors to manipulate these institutions.

I have sent to the BSB over 150 pages of evidence of harassment, bullying and abuse by more than 50 (mainly White male) barristers. Nine months later I have had no substantive response from my regulatory body. Why bother submitting evidence of harassment and bullying when the regulator seemingly doesn’t care? I am just one of many barristers suffering such abuse.

Despite the prevalence of harassment and bullying and the high attrition rate of women leaving the Bar, little has been done by our regulator to proactively prevent it. Francesca O’Neill, in a piece for this magazine two years ago, highlighted the derisory punishments handed out by the BSB’s quasi-judicial arm, the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS), to male barristers for sex crimes against women. In 2020 one male barrister who was found to have sexually assaulted a chambers’ pupil on three separate occasions received just a reprimand and a fine. ‘Facing down the particular challenges that confront women at the Bar simply must be given a higher priority,’ O’Neill argued. ‘For all that our profession is highly individualistic, it is in everyone’s interest that the trust the public places in it is not eroded and that those guilty of serious crime face the professional consequences of those actions.’

BTAS updated its rules in January 2022. ‘Minor’ sexual harassment now receives a 12-24 month suspension and ‘significant’ cases result in disbarment. How many complaints get that far? An FOI request to the BSB in May 2023 revealed that of 222 allegations of ‘any bullying’ by barristers over the last five years, 178 were closed without investigation, 3 upheld, and 21 are ongoing. Of the 256 allegations of ‘inappropriate content on social media’ (including but not limited to online bullying/harassment/abuse), 235 cases were closed without investigation, 2 upheld and 3 are ongoing.

Jolyon Maugham KC, in his book Bringing Down Goliath, wrote about the volume of complaints he has received to the BSB for his political views and active campaigning. One such complaint resulted in the BSB investigating him for making critical remarks about a judge and their judgment in a public forum. After spending £10,000 in legal advice to respond to the complaint, it was dismissed.

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, solicitor, author and activist against misogyny and racism has received unmeritorious complaints to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority about her political views. She believes: ‘It is the role of regulators to evolve in understanding how toxic misogynist, sexist, racist and other expressions of hate are used against activists who are lawyers in an attempt to silence them through their regulators by attacking their reputation and source of income. It is incumbent on regulators to put in place systems that will serve to protect and not penalise the very people within its profession speaking up for the voiceless.’

There is so much to be done to fix this problem, which threatens to drive talented barristers from the legal profession and silence those who have important things to say. Jennifer Robinson, barrister and co-author of How Many More Women? says: ‘It is essential – and a matter of public interest – that barristers use our right to free speech, and our expertise in the legal system, to call out gender bias and where the law and judges fail women.’ But by failing to act against misogyny and malicious complaints, organisations are complicit in facilitating the abuse and silencing women.

Stephanie Hayward, barrister and leader of Behind the Gown, an organisation raising awareness of abuse of power at the Bar, says that harassment and bullying towards female barristers is widespread in both the on and offline world. She says: ‘We lobbied the BSB to explicitly reference the scale of misogynistic abuse towards women online in its social media guidance.’ Its response to the BSB social media guidance consultation noted: ‘Behind the Gown has not – to the same extent – witnessed similar responses from barristers toward male legal professional Twitter users who unapologetically express their views on the law or current affairs.’

Chris Gutteridge, co-founder of ‘All Rise’ – a project designed to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination at the Bar – wrote a piece in Counsel (‘A self-inflicted wound: bullying at the Bar’, June 2023) suggesting we introduce compulsory training in what constitutes ‘inappropriate behaviours’, a model already rolled out on the Northern Circuit. He cites a joint statement, Tackling Counter-Inclusive Misconduct Through Disciplinary Processes signed by the heads of all legal services regulators including the BSB which states: ‘As legal service regulators, we have considerable influence over how legal professionals behave and in helping shape shared professional values’ – swiftly caveated with – ‘regulation is not the whole answer, or even most of the answer’. Gutteridge believes, however, there is more the BSB could do: ‘One of the Bar Council’s key objectives in its strategy to tackle bullying and harassment is to persuade the BSB to make explicit reference to “bullying” in the Code of Conduct since, remarkably, that word is nowhere to be found in the current edition,’ he writes. Neither is misogyny or sexism.

There is a parallel between the failure of the criminal and family justice system to protect women and children from domestic abuse and the failure of regulatory bodies to protect female lawyers from bullying and harassment. The unbroken spectrum of abuse of women extends from clients who are victims of domestic abuse to barristers who are their advocates. In both arenas, women are not being protected by institutional structures that continue to let them down and allow abuse with impunity.

In January, we learnt that the BSB had effectively failed its 2022 end of year inspection and told it must immediately improve its performance. Against its target of 80% for cases referred for regulatory action within 2 weeks, the BSB reported a figure of 21.2%. Against an 80% target for completion of investigations of allegations of breaches of the Handbook within 25 weeks of acceptance, it reported a figure of 38.7%. The Legal Services Board was particularly concerned at the BSB’s conduct towards a senior female member of the Bar for which the regulator issued a public apology.

Ending misogyny, at least in the legal world, means having a more inclusive and diverse profession. There are three men named David sitting in the Supreme Court, only one woman and shamefully there has never been a person of colour. In the most powerful court in our country, women and people of colour are distanced from power. This is not reflective of a healthy democracy (some might say it’s a White boys’ club) but rather a system in which diversity is not prioritised.

Some progress has been made, albeit slowly. It was announced in June that the Judiciary will be headed by Dame Sue Carr from September. For the first time in 755 years, the ‘Lord’ Chief Justice will be a woman. In May, the Bar Council elected Barbara Mills KC as Vice Chair of the Bar 2024. Mills, family law silk and inaugural Co-Chair of the Bar Council’s Race Working Group, will be the first Black, and fifth female barrister to Chair the Bar in 131 years.

If we want meaningful change, the legal establishment needs to change. But first, it is about time that institutions went after the people abusing women and making vile unfounded complaints – instead of women who bravely put their head above the parapet to highlight gender-based violence and socially embedded misogyny. 



‘The Bar Standards Board takes all cases of bullying, harassment, misogyny and sexism very seriously. These are all potential breaches of our Code of Conduct as well as being potentially unlawful. We are also bound by the Public Sector Equality Duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act. All such reports are carefully assessed and considered by the BSB and we will be writing very shortly to Dr Proudman to inform her of our assessment of the evidence which she sent us.

‘In partnership with the Bar Council, and the profession, we are working hard to eliminate bullying and harassment at the Bar. We want to address the problems of underreporting, and to make very clear that bullying, discrimination and harassment cannot be tolerated. We intend to do more to explain which behaviours should be reported to the BSB, what reporting routes are available, and how we deal with such reports. This will be set out in a forthcoming issue of Counsel magazine.’


The Chair of the Bar, Nick Vineall KC, issued a statement on publication of this article ('There is no place at the Bar for misogynist and bullying behaviour'). The Bar Council runs a confidential equality and diversity helpline (020 7611 1426) for support and advice about bullying or harassment. Talk to Spot is an online tool for the Bar which provides an anonymous and confidential way to document harassment and discrimination; submitting a report is optional. To find out more about the Bar Council’s action on bullying and harassment, including its support for All Rise, see its dedicated web pages. See also the pages on bullying and harassment at


As ‘Legal Twitter’ increasingly uses social media as a broadcast platform, it is interesting to look at both the journalism sector’s experience and its response to online abuse. The Guardian commissioned research into the 70m comments left on its site since 2006 and discovered that of the 10 most abused writers eight are women, and the two men are Black. The Chilling: A global study of online violence against women journalists (Julie Posetti and Nabeelah Shabbir (Eds), Nov 202) is part of an International Center for Journalists project and has resulted in the publication of UNESCO recommendations for multiple stakeholder responses to online violence which could be tailored to any sector. There is also an excellent resource hub for preventing and managing online abuse collated by the Committee to Protect Journalists.


Interim Social Media Guidance, Bar Standards Board

‘Toxic Twitter – a toxic place for women’, Amnesty International, March 2018

‘No space for violence against women and girls in the digital world’, Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights,, 14 March 2022

‘Online abuse of feminists as an emerging form of violence against women and girls’, Lewis, Ruth, Rowe, Michael and Wiper, Clare (2017), British Journal of Criminology, 57 (6)

‘Man urged to get legal representative for trial over alleged harassment of women's rights barrister’, David Tooley, Shropshire Star, 28 April 2023

‘I’ve seen abusers use family courts to control and torment victims – but change is coming’, Charlotte Proudman, The Guardian, 29 March 2023

‘A self-inflicted wound: bullying at the Bar’, Chris Gutteridge,Counsel, June 2023

‘Meaningful sanctions and priority action’, Francesca O’Neill, Counsel, June 2021

Regulatory performance: Performance assessment November 2022, Legal Services Board

'How the law silences women and what we can do about it', Keina Yoshida and Jennifer Robinson, Counsel, April 2023