Barristers should not have to ‘tough it out’ against judicial bullying, the Bar Council and Senior Presiding Judge, Lady Justice Macur, have pledged in new guidance for the profession.
‘If you make a genuine and well-founded complaint, and do so in a responsible way, then you will have our full backing, as leaders, in doing so.’
Recognising that judges are also working under significant pressures and that all incidents must be judged in context, the guidance says that bullying behaviour can include personal abuse, sarcasm, contemptuousness, unreasonable demands, relentless criticism, intemperate language, demeaning behaviour or comments designed to embarrass, humiliate or question counsel’s competence or professionalism.
‘However small the number of occasions when judicial bullying occurs, it is always unacceptable,’ the Bar Council said. ‘We need to be able to discuss this without fear of being seen as weak or incompetent. Bullying can and does happen to the strongest and best of us. We must continue to talk about it, and to be proactive in raising concerns.’
Barristers are encouraged, if possible, to take immediate action: ‘A timely response, if it can be given, may be more effective both in addressing the incident itself and in helping the judge to understand the impact.’
New ways of reporting are being developed to help overcome the understandable reluctance to register complaints, given the potential impact on client’s case and a barrister’s career. The confidential helpline is: 020 7611 1426.
The guidance is timely. The Criminal Bar Association has been cataloguing the demoralising experiences of junior – particularly women – advocates in court which, amongst the broader issues of fees and working conditions, are driving many away from the profession. ‘I don’t think I have ever been shouted at like I was by that judge… completely unacceptable... he acted like a toddler. I have decided to leave the Bar for the time being, a big part of my decision to go is the life I am leading as a very junior criminal barrister,’ said one CBA member.
The issue of judicial bullying was courageously outed in 2017 by @MAM12CP, @Familoo and @mcgrathauthor. Jo Delahunty QC raised the profile in her Gresham lecture ‘A Day in the Life of a Judge’ and an article for Counsel (March 2018).