Two QCs have slammed the working environment for barristers as much more “hostile” than it once was.
In the Bar Council’s magazine, Darren Howe and Professor Jo Delahunty said that while the BSB Handbook tells barristers not to discriminate, victimise or harass unlawfully, they believe the rules of the Bar should protect everyone from harassment, victimisation and bullying.
“Many, even most, of the oppressive behaviours we endure from others when at work do not fall within the category of ‘unlawful’ discrimination, victimisation or harassment,” the professor said.
“In our view, unlawfulness should not be the benchmark for assessing whether behaviour is appropriate.”
They agreed that a definition of bullying should be adopted and added to the list of other conduct which is likely to be treated as a breach of the core duties to act with integrity and uphold trust in the profession.
They also observed that nothing in the code focused primarily on how barristers behaved towards each other.
The article concluded: “It is our experience that the working environment for barristers has become a more hostile place than it once was.
“One source of that hostility comes from our opponents. As with the bullying judges, all who work in your area will be able to name the opponents known to be difficult, aggressive and often rude. We cannot complain about our wellbeing at work if it is us causing unnecessary stress to others by the manner in which we conduct ourselves.
“We must remember that our own behaviour impacts on others. We are unlikely to know what challenges our opponents might be facing so be courteous and respectful.
“If you let work stress or personal problems get to you and your own behaviour falls short, then own that and say ‘sorry’. Don’t let pride stand in the way. You do not need to be aggressive to win your case. Do as you would be done by. Reputations matter in our profession. We all ‘talk’, so do the right thing.”
They also called for ongoing training for judges on appropriate behaviour towards advocates in court.
“We are not there to be shouted at, insulted or belittled. The days of the screaming Dickensian judge hectoring counsel should be long over. They aren’t yet.