Bullying in the workplace, or indeed out of the workplace, is unacceptable.

This is as true within the court environment as it is anywhere else. It is also worth observing that life at the Bar has a number of difficult work relationships that, if not unique, are very different to most other workplace scenarios. The barrister/solicitor and the barrister/clerk relationships both have inbuilt symbiotic tensions that are not always the easiest to maintain without problems, and the barrister/judge relationship in court has many features that make it hard to compare directly with other work situations.

The courtroom is, often if not ordinarily, an adversarial environment with the judge arbitrating between parties forcefully arguing from opposing standpoints. It is unsurprising that at times the atmosphere in court can become tense, and in such situations human nature is such that tempers can become short and intemperate responses can be made. Judges are humans too and will never be immune to the occasional lapse. The Judicial Conduct Investigation Office (JCIO) is the appropriate forum for overt cases involving more egregious judicial behaviour.

In most cases where any member of the Bar feels that he or she has been on the receiving end of inappropriate judicial behaviour, the starting point should be one’s own Head of Chambers or other appropriate senior member of chambers.

It is through this process that concerns can be fed through to the appropriate people which in appropriate cases will be the local Leader of Circuit. Leaders have available to them lines of communication directly with resident judges, designated judges and presiding judges. By dealing with concerns in this way patterns of systemic bad behaviour can be picked up upon and the judge can be spoken to by his judicial line managers.

I know that in my time as Leader of the Northern Circuit, and, I would like to think, having kept my ear pretty close to the ground, I have heard only the occasional rumbling of disquiet but nothing that has necessitated me taking any direct action. I would not in any way be coy about doing so if I felt it necessary; that is what we are here for, to protect our members. I would be more than happy to go to speak to any judge about whom reports of unacceptable behaviour had reached me to express appropriate concern. In this way, individual barristers are insulated against any worry about being identified as ‘trouble makers’ or ‘whistle blowers’ as the concerns can, in almost every case, be appropriately anonymised.

Members of the Bar should be able to practise in a work environment free from any oppressive behaviour, judicial or otherwise. I am confident that any such behaviour is very much the exception rather than the norm, but I am equally confident that such behaviour does on occasion occur.

If and when it does, do not feel isolated, do not feel that there is nothing you can do about it. Report it to your Head of Chambers and, if appropriate, your local Bar Leader so that action can be taken. The ‘stand out’ egregious judicial outburst of poor behaviour will be a rare beast and the JCIO will be well placed to deal with those very obvious examples. The same Office is there to deal with the lower level poor behaviour that has gone beyond explicable if not excusable occasional lapse into a pattern of poor behaviour. Those patterns can only be picked up upon if they are reported to Bar Leaders who can collate such information and deal with it accordingly. I state again: that is what we are here for; use us.

Contributor Michael Hayton QC is Leader of the Northern Circuit

A Spokesperson for the judiciary comments:

‘The Guide to Judicial Conduct makes it clear that members of the judiciary should seek to be courteous, patient, tolerant and punctual and should respect the dignity of all.

‘The Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals state in the Dignity at Work Statement that they are committed to ensuring that the environment in which judicial office-holders and staff work is free from harassment, victimisation and bullying and that everyone is able to work in an atmosphere in which they can develop professionally and use their abilities to their full potential.

‘Complaints about a judge’s behaviour towards a barrister should be referred to the independent Judicial Conduct Investigations Office for consideration. Information on how to complain is available at: judicialconduct.judiciary.gov.uk’