Many incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination at the Bar go unreported and unchallenged. Many people are reluctant to report a distressing experience, sometimes because they fear reporting will have an impact on their career, or that they won’t be believed. In order to tackle behaviours like racist or sexist comments, bullying or inappropriate behaviours occurring across the Bar, we need to know about them. The Bar Council is working with Spot, an online tool, to give the profession a secure, constructive process for reporting and dealing with unacceptable behaviours.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place and sometimes prompting further incidents of bullying and discriminatory behaviours, Spot has an even greater role to play in any barrister’s day-to-day practice. The Spot tool allows members of the Bar to record and – if they wish – report these behaviours anonymously.

How Spot works

Spot is a completely secure, online tool designed to help people working at the Bar to record and report any incident. 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 inputted the information it will generate a date-stamped contemporaneous record of the incident. At this point, no one else will see it. It belongs only to the person who created the record.

Once the record has been created, you decide if you want to do anything else with it. It can be left as a record of the incident, or it can be used to support a complaint or request for help. A complaint can go to chambers, the relevant employer and/or regulator. In the case of criminal behaviour, the record can be used to help report an incident to the police.

If you give permission, the record can be sent by Spot to the Equality and Diversity team at the Bar Council. This can be done completely anonymously and enables the Bar Council to provide additional support and collect information about what’s happening – and where. The Bar Council team is not obligated to report an incident recorded on Spot to the Bar Standards Board, or to anyone else.

Building a picture of harassment and discrimination at the Bar

Reports to Talk to Spot have steadily increased since it was launched to the Bar in 2019. The team at the Bar Council are now receiving five or six reports a month which is significant considering it’s a new platform and there remain barriers to reporting in an institution like the Bar. COVID, unfortunately, appears to have amplified instances of bullying with barristers feeling pressured by judges to turn up to court unnecessarily despite the health risks involved. In January 2021, all reports submitted via the ‘app’ related to COVID-19 issues. A total of 34 reports were made between September 2020 and the end of January 2021 on the platform.

Tools such as Spot take time to gain traction and earn the confidence of those it is designed to help. Equally, the Bar needs to have confidence in the wider system of how complaints are dealt with. Questions have recently been raised about the leniency with which the Bar Tribunal Adjudication Service deals with sexual harassment claims reported to the BSB and whether the sanctions sufficiently reflect the seriousness of such behaviour.

Spot will allow the Bar Council to build a picture of what is happening at the Bar and, where patterns of bullying, harassment, discrimination and other inappropriate behaviour are identified, tackle them. The isolation experienced by people who’ve been bullied, harassed and discriminated against can be a barrier to challenging perpetrators and toxic cultures. If multiple anonymous reports are made about the same individual, the Bar Council support complainants to join the dots. This could give them more confidence in pursuing a complaint or, at the very least, let them know they are not alone.

A Bar-wide tool

Spot can be used by anyone who’s experienced bullying, harassment or inappropriate behaviour at the Bar. It can also be used by witnesses to report an incident, or by a third party who’s received a report and wants to make a record.

Spot is just one way that the Bar Council is tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination at the Bar. Alongside the Talk to Spot tool, the Bar Council continues to provide confidential ethics and equality and diversity helplines, training and support for members and chambers, research and guidance on all aspects of equality and diversity.

The Bar Council wants everyone working at the Bar to be aware of Talk to Spot. It is an easy and controllable way to raise a concern or make a complaint. The time has come to stop sweeping these incidents under the carpet and take action.