Times photographer Jack Hill
Senior barristers are calling on all victims of sexual harassment at the Bar to speak out in a unprecedented attempt to purge the profession of inappropriate behaviour.
Andrew Langdon, QC, chairman of the Bar Council, has written to all chambers reminding them of the professional body’s policy of “zero tolerance” urging all barristers and chambers’ staff who are victims of sexual harassment to “speak up”.
“Sexual harassment must not be tolerated at the Bar, or in any other walks of life,” he wrote on his official blog. “At the risk of stating the obvious, an allegation of sexual harassment is a serious matter. It is incumbent on chambers, as a matter of fairness and to uphold the integrity of the profession, to treat the complainant and alleged perpetrator justly.”
Langdon, whose comments come after reports of sexual harassment allegations at Matrix Chambers in Gray’s Inn, said that he had advised all chambers to check their policies and procedures and reminded them of the profession’s sexual harassment guide. The leader of the council, which represents about 15,000 barristers in England and Wales, has asked sets to ensure everyone is aware of the Bar’s zero-tolerance approach and reminded them that training is available.
Langdon has also promoted a confidential help-line and procedures for reporting sexual harassment.
The Times reported this week that the independent review of how Matrix Chambers handled a serious sexual misconduct allegation found “institutional failings”, including a lack of support for the woman in the case when she was distressed and in ill health.
Last year a survey of 1,300 women barristers by the profession’s watchdog, the Bar Standards Board, found that two fifths of respondents said that they had been subject to sexual harassment, but only a fifth went on to report it. Others stayed silent for fear that that speaking out might damage their careers.