Female barristers call for action on discrimination and harassment

A recent report published by the Association of Women Barristers (AWB) has made recommendations to tackle discrimination and harassment at the criminal bar.

The report is entitled ‘In the Age of ‘Us Too’: Moving Towards a Zero-Tolerance Attitude to Harassment and Bullying at the bar’ and outlines recommendations following a roundtable event discussing the issue of retaining women and other underrepresented groups at a senior level at the bar.

Recommendations include long-term support for victims of harassment as well as recruiting male “champions” to counter a gentlemanly culture where it is inappropriate to highlight unacceptable behaviour by other barristers.

Mandatory training for judges is one of the recommendations made by the report, as well as improved flexible working policies, while it also highlighted a lack of facilities for underrepresented groups in court centres, such as for breastfeeding mothers or individuals who identify as gender non-binary.

The report found that women are more likely to be overlooked for leading briefs, while bullying and harassment is a serious concern, with many fearing that reporting an incident would be damaging for their career.

Lynne Townley, AWB Chair and co-author of the report, said: “Data shows the rates of women practising at the bar drops dramatically after five and 10 years’ call as women leave to take on childcare or caring responsibilities.

“So the bullying and harassment we know to be rife will only compound the problem of retaining women in senior positions. Black and minority ethnic women and members of the LGBT community are particularly vulnerable and affirmative steps must be taken so the bar at all levels represents the diversity of our country.”

Hayley Trovato, Senior Associate at OGR Stock Denton, said: “This really highlights how discrimination is prevalent everywhere and sadly while we may be some way off eliminating discrimination from society as a whole, taking steps in your own workplace to train staff is vital.

“Did you know that as an employer you can be liable for discriminatory acts carried out by your employees during the course of their employment?

“Employees who believe they have experienced unlawful discrimination have a right to bring a claim against you, regardless of how long they have worked for you and regardless of whether you knew about the act complained of.

“Defending an Employment Tribunal claim can be lengthy, expensive and draining, and it can also damage the reputation of your company. If you can demonstrate that you took all reasonably practicable steps to prevent the employee from committing the act then this can help to reduce the likelihood of you being found liable.

“One of these reasonable steps is ensuring all of your employees have undertaken Equality and Diversity Training.

“I offer Equality and Diversity Training and can arrange to come into workplaces to offer this training to staff. Please do not hesitate to contact me below for further information.”

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