Spot, report, stop: AI tackles age-old problem

Your guide to Spot – the online tool which allows barristers to record and, if they want, report inappropriate behaviour, bullying, harassment and discrimination at the Bar and Bench


There is no place for bullying, harassment or discrimination at the Bar and from the judiciary. Perhaps in response to movements like #MeToo and other campaigns highlighting bullying and harassment, there has been an increase in the number of people reporting inappropriate behaviours. The Bar Council knows that this is the tip of the iceberg and many incidents still go unreported and unchallenged. We know we need to do a lot more to tackle inappropriate behaviours which can blight careers and create misery.

We also know that it is very hard to call out bullying, harassment or discrimination when it happens, not least because the behaviours themselves undermine confidence and are an abuse of power in a profession where reputation and loyalty matter.

It can be difficult to challenge harassment when the person doing the harassing is more senior. It can feel impossible to tell the person who you rely on for work that their behaviour is inappropriate or makes you feel uncomfortable. It can make us feel very alone when we think we’re the only one that it’s happening to and we might be overreacting. So, when something happens which doesn’t feel right, or makes us feel uncomfortable, or hurts us, it can be hard to know who to tell or what to do.

That's where Spot comes in

Spot is a secure online tool designed to help people record and report inappropriate behaviour. It will let you make a record of exactly what happened, who did it, who saw it, where it happened and when. It’s simple to use and when you’ve entered the information, it will generate a date-stamped contemporaneous record of the incident.

No one else will see it. It belongs to you, just you. What happens next is up to you.

Once the record has been created, it can simply stay with you so that you have all the information in one place – you don’t have to do anything else with it. If you want, you can use the record to support a complaint about the incident. A complaint can go to the relevant chambers, employer, regulator, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office and/or the Bar Council. In the case of criminal behaviour, the record can be used to help report an incident to the police.

If permission is given, Spot will send your record to the Equality and Diversity (E&D) team at the Bar Council. This can be done completely anonymously and would enable us to provide additional confidential support and collect information about what’s happening and where. Through Spot, we can respond to anonymous complaints without revealing your identity. Any report provides incredibly valuable information that will help us better understand inappropriate behaviour within the profession.

The bottom line is this: it is completely up to you as to what we do with your information and how it is used.

Building a picture of harassment

We hope that Spot will enable us to build a picture of what is happening where and if there are patterns which can be stopped.

The isolation experienced by people who’ve been bullied, harassed and discriminated against is one of the barriers to really challenging perpetrators and toxic cultures. If the Bar Council receives multiple anonymous reports about the same individual, Spot will make it possible for us to go back to everyone who has made the records and let them know there are others with the same experience. This could give individuals more confidence in pursuing a complaint or at the very least let them know they’re not alone.

Spot will also take third party reports, so if you have witnessed an incident or inappropriate behaviour you can make a record of it before you forget potentially important details. This record can then be reported to the relevant authorities; or sent to the team at the Bar Council. Again, these reports can be made anonymously and don’t have to go any further.

Bullying, harassment and discrimination are nothing new and are not unique to the Bar. But we know our profession can be better and we want to do everything we can to make it easier for someone who has experienced inappropriate behaviour to report it and stop it. This way, we will tackle toxic cultures which have allowed these behaviours to go unchallenged and we will send a clear signal that the Bar is of all, for all.

Alongside Spot, we provide confidential ethics and E&D helplines, training and support for members and chambers, and research and guidance on all aspects of E&D. We’re keen to see how Spot can support this work, to see if it makes it easier for people to report and if it enables us to tackle this problem. We will keep Spot under review and make constant improvements as we learn from users’ experience. 


SPREAD THE WORD

  • If you want to record an incident, go to talktospot.com/barcouncil
  • Spot is an online tool, and you do not need to download anything or enter any identifying information to use it. Allow it to support you to make a record and, if you want to, to make a report.
  • If you have witnessed inappropriate behaviour, or someone has disclosed something to you, you can make a record yourself, or encourage the individual concerned to make a record.
  • Let people you work with know about Spot and put a link on your website, download the posters for chambers noticeboards or robing rooms (email equality@barcouncil.org.uk for these). People will only use Spot if we spread the word.


Dr Julia Shaw, co-founder of Spot and research associate at UCL, said: ‘Research shows that harassment and discrimination at work leads to a social contagion effect – where a toxic culture spreads throughout an organisation because people speak about incidents, they just don’t typically speak about it to those who can take action to improve the situation. The Bar Council is clearly committed to changing this, by embracing our tool to help barristers tackle issues when they arrive and create more inclusive chambers.’


Lynne Townley, Chair of the Association of Women Barristers said: ‘The AWB wholeheartedly welcomes and supports the Spot tool. Inappropriate behaviour causes considerable distress and Spot empowers those affected to take action. However, a report to Spot remains confidential and goes no further until the individual reporting decides otherwise. The AWB is committed to assisting the Bar Council during the coming months to raise awareness of Spot and to provide reassurance to would-be users that they retain sole control of any information recorded on Spot.’


USEFUL LINKS

If you want to record an incident, please go to: talktospot.com/barcouncil

New AWB Report: In the Age of ‘Us Too?’: Moving Towards a Zero-Tolerance Attitude To Harassment and Bullying at the Bar', Lynne Townley and HHJ Kaly Kaul QC.

What constitutes inappropriate behaviour? www.barcouncilethics.co.uk/documents/discrimination-harassment-bullying-and-inappropriate-behaviours/

Support www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk and for confidential help call: 0800 169 2040


FAQS: SPOT EXPLAINED

What can you do with Spot?

Spot helps you talk through and contemporaneously record inappropriate moments at work, including court. You can then choose to print the report and send it to your chambers, your employer (if you are an employed barrister), the Bar Standards Board (BSB) or Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO), and/or to submit the report to the Bar Council or to simply save the report for your own reference/use later. You can always edit your responses before submitting a report to the Bar Council – eg remove names, identifiable details (though it is more helpful if Bar Council has this detail so we can map issues and hotspots). Any report submitted to the Bar Council will be treated as strictly confidential and will be seen by its Equality & Diversity Policy Team only.

The Equality & Diversity Policy Team can also communicate with you through Spot without knowing your identity or personal contact details, if that is your preference.

How does Spot work?

Spot is a web-based application and uses an AIbot to ask questions about what happened. Chatting with Spot is like text messaging with a computer. The bot can’t currently respond to casual conversation, but it does use basic artificial intelligence to ask meaningful follow-up questions based on your responses. It should prompt you to record meaningful and pertinent information about your experience.

Who makes Spot, and why?

Spot is made by an international team based in San Francisco, Berlin, and London. It is based on over 40 years of best practice research on interviewing people about emotional events.

The team at Spot believes that everyone deserves to work in an inclusive, diverse, and respectful environment. Research, however, shows that harassment, bullying, and discrimination are dramatically underreported. Fears of retaliation and judgement often prevent people from speaking up about inappropriate behaviour.

Who can see what I tell Spot?

No human (not even the Spot team or the Bar Council) will see what you discuss with Spot unless you decide to submit a report. Even then your report can be anonymous.

When you talk to Spot, you’re talking to a bot. You are the only human involved. If you are on a personal device and using a secure WIFI connection, no one should be able to see your chat.

Because Spot is a bot and not a human, it cannot judge or assess you. Spot is available to talk 24/7, and you can take as long as you need.

If you decide to submit a report after chatting with Spot, you can edit your responses and remove any details that you don’t want to share before sending it.

How does Spot protect my data and anonymity?

Spot takes precautions to protect your chat with Spot and doesn’t store any data longer than necessary. If you close the browser window or tab where you are using Spot, the session will end, and your chat history will be deleted. Your information will be removed from Spot’s servers. No one (not even the Spot team) can get your chat history back.

Spot doesn’t share your chat, reports, or other private data unless you explicitly ask it to. If you submit a report to the Bar Council, Spot stores a timestamp (when the report was sent) and the recipient’s email address alongside the report.

Spot uses industry-standard encryption for all communications between your web browser and its servers, and for all communications with the Bar Council.

The Bar Council respects your right to submit anonymous reports and has pledged not to attempt to identify anonymous submissions. If you use Spot to talk through an incident and don’t submit a report – or submit an anonymous report – the Bar Council won’t be able to use Spot to identify who you are.

What will the Bar Council do with my report?

The Bar Council has pledged to follow up on reports within 10 business days (the Spot administrator at the Bar Council receives reminders of these deadlines). If they don’t follow up on your report within 10 business days, please email: hello@talktospot.com.

The Bar Council cannot investigate a report – only the BSB can do this, and only if you manually submit your report. The same applies regarding a formal complaint to chambers or the JCIO. However, the Bar Council can: (i) contact you – if you wish – to discuss your experience and provide advice on options for action, support, and reporting; (ii) use aggregated anonymised reports of incidents; for example, the Bar Council might, when speaking to the Judicial Office, use trends or themes raised with Spot to seek better training for judges on bullying or in developing training/good practice for clerks and barristers etc.; and/or (iii) advise you if others have made similar complaints (against an individual) – this may influence what action you choose to take. Please note that the Bar Council would never disclose detail of those complaints, but if you contact the Bar Council about a particular judge, for example, and choose to stay anonymous but the Bar Council learns separately that other people are raising similar complaints, the Bar Council might contact you to see if you would be prepared to waive your anonymity so that a thorough investigation can take place.

Can I report an incident I’ve witnessed?

Yes, you can use Spot to document inappropriate incidents that you have witnessed. After answering questions about what happened, you’ll save a private report for yourself. You can then choose to submit your report to the Bar Council or save the report for later. You can always edit your responses before submitting a report.

How do I start?

If you want to record an incident, go to talktospot.com/barcouncil. For more information email: hello@talktospot.com or see: talktospot.com/research.


Sam Mercer is Head of Policy, Equality & Diversity and CSR at the Bar Council. Prior to this she worked on a portfolio of consultancy projects for blue-chip companies, NHS trusts, charities and government, was Workplace Director at Business in the Community and Chief Executive of the Employers Forum on Age.

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Sam Mercer

Sam has been Head of Equality and Diversity at the Bar Council since June 2013. Prior to this she worked on a portfolio of consultancy projects for blue-chip companies, NHS Trusts, Charities and Government, was Workplace Director at Business in the Community (BITC) and was Chief Executive of the Employers Forum on Age (EFA).