Sexual Harassment

We encourage those who have been sexually harassed to feel able to report what has happened to them and for several years now there have been clear processes in place to assist you. For convenience they are set out again below.

Whether you have been harassed or are trying to manage a complaint of sexual harassment, you may find the following useful: http://www.barcouncilethics.co.uk/documents/sexual-harassment-information-chambers/

What do I do if I have been sexually harassed?

You have the following options and can follow one or all.

  1. Report the incident in chambers. All chambers are required by the BSB to have a policy to both deal with harassment, and for making a complaint (rC110.3.j). They should follow this policy, if they don't have a policy or fail to follow policy, you should call the confidential Bar Council helpline (T: 0207 611 1320; email: equality@barcouncil.org.uk).

  2. Call the confidential Bar Council helpline(T: 0207 611 1320; email: equality@barcouncil.org.uk). If you call this number you will be put through to Sam Mercer or a member of the Bar Council's Equality and Diversity team, they are responsible for issues including sexual harassment at the Bar. At no point will you be required to give your name or the name of your chambers. Whoever you speak to will be able to provide advice and support on what you should do next, but you will not be required to do anything, you can simply discuss your options. If you would like additional support, you will be put in touch with a member of the Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committee. You will be told the name of the person you are being put in touch with first, and you can ask to speak to someone else if you wish (we make sure you have a choice so you don't have to speak to someone you know/or from your chambers). Any member of the committee you speak to has a special exemption from BSB reporting requirements and is able to provide advice without being required to report the incident to the BSB.  All contact is treated with strict confidentiality at all times.

  3. Report the incident to the BSB. This will prompt a BSB investigation in chambers. Sexual Harassment constitutes serious misconduct (rC65/gC96) which has reporting requirements https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/complaints-and-professional-conduct/obligations-to-report-serious-misconduct/. If you make a complaint to the BSB this is what you should expect to happen https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/complaints-and-professional-conduct/making-a-complaint/what-will-happen-as-a-result-of-your-complaint/

What do I do if I witness sexual harassment?

Be aware clear processes are in place to assist anyone who suffers harassment at the Bar. You should reassure the individual you witness being harassed, and encourage them to:

  1. Report the incident in chambers. All chambers are required by the BSB to have a policy to both deal with harassment, and for making a complaint. They should follow this policy, if they don't have a policy or fail to follow policy, they should call the confidential Bar Council helpline (T: 0207 611 1321; email: equality@barcouncil.org.uk);

  2. Call the confidential Bar Council helpline (T: 0207 611 1321; email: equality@barcouncil.org.uk). If they call this number they will be put through to Sam Mercer or a member of the Bar Council's Equality and Diversity team, they are responsible for issues including sexual harassment at the Bar. At no point will they be required to give their name or the name of their chambers. Whoever they speak to will be able to provide advice and support on what they should do next, but they will not be required to do anything, they can simply discuss their options. If they would like additional support, they will be put in touch with a member of the Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committee. They will be told the name of the person they are being put in touch with first, and they can ask to speak to someone else if they wish (we make sure they have a choice so they don't have to speak to someone they know/or from their chambers). Any member of the committee they speak to has a special exemption from BSB reporting requirements and is able to provide advice without being required to report the incident to the BSB. All contact is treated with strict confidentiality at all times.

  3. As a barrister, as a witness, you may also be required to report the incident to the BSB (rC66/gC96). This may prompt a BSB investigation in chambers. Sexual Harassment constitutes serious misconduct which has reporting requirements https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/complaints-and-professional-conduct/obligations-to-report-serious-misconduct/. If you make a complaint to the BSB this is what you should expect to happen https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/complaints-and-professional-conduct/making-a-complaint/what-will-happen-as-a-result-of-your-complaint/

If you are unsure about the position re your duties this can be discussed via the BC confidential helpline (see above).

What should chambers do if someone reports sexual harassment?

  • Do not ignore the complaint, you must act. 

  • You must have a harassment policy in place and a clear process for making a complaint (this is a requirement of the BSB Handbook equality rules). See http://www.barcouncilethics.co.uk/documents/sexual-harassment-information-chambers/ which includes a sample policy, a step by step guide on informal and formal investigation good practice and details your reporting requirements;

  • If you are unsure about what to do contact the confidential E&D Helpline at Bar Council for support and guidance (T: 0207 611 1320 or email equality@barcouncil.org.uk);

  • Once you have established sexual harassment has occurred, report any incident and the steps you are taking to the BSB professional standards team.

What should chambers do if it just wants to increase understanding and awareness of E&D and sexual harassment?

  • Raise the issue in a chambers meeting/chambers wide communications. Ensure everyone is aware of your zero-tolerance policy and make sure everyone is aware of chambers' approach and policies (you are required to have a policy under BSB Handbook rules), and what they should do if they are harassed/see harassment taking place.

  • Send clerks and members of chambers to Bar Council's E&D training (including case studies discussing harassment) -  no cost

  • Bring in E&D trainers to raise awareness and deliver training on this issue in chambers (an option is to ask the Bar Council's E&D team to come into chambers and deliver bespoke E&D (including sexual harassment) training, for information please email Sam (smercer@barcouncil.org.uk)

I want to assist those who may have been sexually harassed in my chambers/practice area/circuit?

It is great you want to do something, but please bear in mind the following:

  • There is Bar Council support available. It may be easier to work with us, or refer barristers to us for help, advice and guidance. If you think we need to do more on this issue, please tell us (T: 0207 611 1320, smercer@barcouncil.org.uk).

  • Reporting requirements. Incidents of sexual harassment constitute serious misconduct which require reporting to the BSB. If you are a barrister you may be required to report any incident irrespective of the wishes of the victim. You will not be able to respect their confidentiality.