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Bar Council releases guidelines for tackling sexual harassment after report highlights inappropriate behaviour

The Bar Council has released new guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment in a bid to help barristers handle mistreatment after a 2015 report highlighted instances of inappropriate behaviour experienced by some barristers.

The Snapshot: The Experience of Self-Employed Women at the Bar report published last year interviewed 85 female barristers about their experience at the Bar. The findings found although there has been a cultural shift at the bar which has meant female barristers have a very different and much more positive experience in training to become a barrister, there were still isolated incidents of inappropriate behaviour.

The Bar Council said its guide, released his week, will assist all barristers in appropriately managing their practice and professional relationships with others.

The guide provides a definition of sexual harassment, outlines the responsibilities for chambers’ heads and gives a model sexual harassment policy.

When asked why such guidelines were necessary for chambers, executive of the Bar Council’s equality diversity and social mobility committee (EDSMC) Sam Mercer said because chambers don’t benefit from having an HR function, when these issues come up it can be quite difficult to navigate the BSB rules and doing the right thing by all parties involved.

She added: ‘It’s about giving advice to chambers on how they manage these issues properly, what their responsibilities are in respect to the regulator and that they’re managed confidentially and the right processes are followed.’

Vice-chair of the Bar Council’s EDSMC Fiona Jackson QC hopes that by tackling these issues, chambers will contribute to making sure there’s a level playing field in practice so that everyone can succeed to the highest level regardless of gender.

‘We want to demonstrate that harassment shouldn’t be tolerated at all and complaints should be taken seriously. This is how we want chambers to deal with them so that people don’t have an increased level of victimisation after an initial allegation of sexual harassment by feeling that they’re not being dealt with seriously.’

The report made a series of recommendations which included creating support networks for barristers.

Co-author of the report Kate Brunner QC said the sexual harassment guidelines ensure in part that women barristers who want to stay at the bar are fully supported, and must be implemented alongside the report’s other recommendations.

‘[It is important] every obstacle is taken out of their way, including any residual sexual harassment and the practicalities of childcare if they choose to have a family,’ Brunner told Legal Business.

Brunner said: ‘Because the recommendations that came out of the report are so varied, the response to it has been very wide ranging. The sexual harassment policy that has just been released is an important part of that response, but it is only one small part of a very concerted effort to address this problem.’

Read the guidelines here